A Good Life Versus The Good Life

One way to contrast modern sensibilities with Christian sensibilities is to describe the difference between “the good life” and “a good life.” “The good life” is an advertising theme, a photoshoot of the American Dream where all obstacles are overcome through the miracles of technology, market forces, and unfettered freedom. “A good life” is an entirely different question. A good life may very well include an abundance of suffering, disease, and deprivation. The difference in these two descriptions points towards the overarching narratives that surround them. In effect, they describe two very different religions. True Christianity is incompatible with the American Dream.

All of the writings in the New Testament clearly presume that suffering is universal – everyone suffers. There is no teaching in the New Testament that suggests possible routes for avoiding suffering – nor is there a suggestion that such an avoidance is inherently desirable. St. Paul declares that “all who want to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2Tim. 3:12). He does not define “persecution” in this passage. For our purposes, it is sufficient to understand that St. Paul does not see any form of godliness in Christ that is not accompanied by suffering. He describes the course of his own Christian life:

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christand be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith…” (Phil. 3:8-9)

To this, he adds an exclamation:

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the communion (koinonia) of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10–11)

St. Paul does not refer to the sufferings of Christ as something that has been accomplished and completed. Rather, they are ongoing and possible of participation (communion). In one of the most jarring statements in the New Testament, St. Paul says:

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church…” (Col. 1:24)

These invocations of “sufferings” are not described as something to be avoided. However, they are not described as something to be sought for its own sake: the Orthodox faith is not morbid. The mystery of Christ’s co-suffering with/in us makes the redemption of suffering possible: we can bear to go there because Christ is there. To “follow Christ” is to follow in the way of the Cross. We are baptized into His death.

St. Maximus taught that Christ suffers in each of us “until the end of time.” Such an understanding goes far to explain another of his sayings, “He who understands the mystery of the Cross understands all things.”

For a believer, “a good life,” is nothing other than the life of Christ. “Christ within us the hope of glory,” St. Paul calls it. That life is revealed to us in the gospels and its pattern has not changed. All of the virtues are nothing less than the character of Christ being shown forth in our lives. They are formed and shaped within us by the work of the Holy Spirit, but not without our own co-suffering with Christ.

Consider those described in the Beatitudes:

…the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…the persecuted.

Each of these descriptions includes a measure of suffering, just as they are rewarded with glory.

Most of Christian history would have no argument with such assertions for the simple fact that human circumstances were never quite free from suffering. Life was hard. The past 300 years have seen an explosion in human wealth and productivity. Of course, 100 percent of the human race still dies (though we dream of a technological immortality). The dominant narrative of modernity (constantly marketed to us) has been the promise of a better life (“the good life”) through progress, technology, and the acquisition of wealth. There have been remarkable discoveries (antibiotics, analgesics, surgeries, etc.) that frequently improve our medical well-being. However, the narrative itself tends to demonize suffering in a manner that while producing “the good life,” fails miserably at producing “a good life.” Modernity does not suffer well or virtuously.

Modern Christianities that have followed this path have largely become caricatures of their classical roots. The “Cross” is reduced to a historical event that paid the price of sin, guaranteeing and underwriting the joys of modernity’s pursuit of pleasure. “Jesus died for me so I could be happy.” This same perversion of classical doctrine frequently ridicules the classical tradition of fasting and asceticism. What is in fact the case is that modern Christianities exist in an economic bubble that champions the American middle class (or above) while ignoring the realties of human existence across time and across the world. Christ offered very serious warnings about wealth – words that fall on deaf ears as we pray for the prosperity of our national dream.

Again, suffering is not to be sought for its own sake. However, it has a sacramental quality that is inherent to the gospel. When Christ spoke of His abiding presence among us, His examples included the sick, the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison – the least of these. There is a deep spiritual delusion that treasures Christ in the elements of the Eucharist while ignoring His presence in the least of these. They, too, are His “Body broken for you.”

Such lessons should be obvious to us, were they not so frequently shouted down by the constant droning of our culture’s songs of success. The gospels and our faith describe a normal life, charged with glory but sifted in the suffering of our broken existence. God has entered into this very world, emptying Himself even to encompass the whole of our suffering in the fullness of the Cross. We learn to find Him there and discover that in that very emptiness He has given us His fullness. The normal life, lived fully, becomes the vehicle of our transformation.

Blessed Jesus, come soon!

 

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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77 responses to “A Good Life Versus The Good Life”

  1. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “There is a deep spiritual delusion that treasures Christ in the elements of the Eucharist while ignoring His presence in the least of these. They, too, are His “Body broken for you.””

    Thanks so much for this important reminder Fr. Stephen.

    Would it be correct to say that in America much of the Protestant spiritual experience is one of placing a veneer of Jesus over a hyper-capitalistic, hyper-individual freedom ideology mixed with conservative politics? It´s kind of like a picture I once saw when I was in Anabaptist circles … Jesus carrying the McDonald`s golden arches instead of the cross. Almost blasphemous if it wasn´t so seemingly (IMO) spot on.

  2. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    So much of it is an innocent delusion. America has been a religious project since its very foundation. “Secularism” is a religion (there’s no such thing as the absence of religion). I’ve recently had a number of pastoral conversations with Protestants who are struggling to understand Orthodoxy (with a variety of questions). I’m constantly amazed at how absent the Cross is from their daily life – it’s been relegated to a very inadequate notion of the atonement. Hence, this article.

    The gospel, in its true fullness, has not been heard by most.

  3. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    “The gospel, in its true fullness, has not been heard by most.”

    Sadly, I am in complete agreement. 🙁

  4. Jonathan McCormack Avatar
    Jonathan McCormack

    It’s strange, aside from monks, I’ve rarely met any Christians not pursuing the “dream” – many have, or are striving for, marriage, a home, kids, and financial security (401 K etc).

    I haven’t a clue how a “real Christian” life might actually look opposed to their secular neighbor. Their lives often look identical.

    Is it mostly in our attitude towards these things, or how we go about pursuing them in a specifically Christian way – prayer etc ?

  5. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I agree with you, Fr. Stephen, that secularism is very much a religion. I am confronted with it everyday here in western Europe. A guy at work today was yammering away about how it is very important for partners in a relationship to keep almost everything separate in order for each person to maintain their personal autonomy. He is the same guy who thinks people should stop having babies in order to conserve environmental resources!

    I then immediately thought … wow … the religion of secular thinking and hyper-individualism has poisoned the well and has sickened western civilization. I then thought, Matthew, you may very well have more in common with your religious Muslim neighbors and co-workers than you do with these secular co-workers and family members who grew up in “Christian” Germany!

  6. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Jonathan,
    Sadly, your observation may be quite correct. Our personal asceticism (observing the fasts, disciplined prayer, etc.) should be accompanied by an asceticism of stewardship – the practice of generosity – indeed – radical generosity. Of course, much that is “private” is simply not known (we should sound a trumpet when we give alms, for example). Another way of asking the question, though, is “how do they suffer?”

  7. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    It’s occurred to me recently that my attempts at fasting, asceticism and what passes for ‘suffering’ in my life, would have been considered a bounteous life by previous generations, even kings. And yet, I find reasons to grumble and complain at how hard it all feels! It is so incredibly difficult to gain, and keep, a sense of perspective. There’s a saying from, I believe, the desert Fathers that stuck with me since first reading it several years ago,

    “The holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said ‘What have we ourselves done?’ One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion replied, ‘We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.’ The others replied, ‘And those who come after us, what will they do?’ He said, ‘They will struggle to achieve half our works.’ They said, ‘And to those who come after them, what will happen?’ He said, ‘The Men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them; and those who will be Approved in that day will be greater than either of us or our fathers.”

    Some hope in that last sentence. I think it may have been Fr. Stephen who once said something along the lines of, “It takes faith that in prior generations would have raised the dead just to believe in these times!”. Lord have mercy.

  8. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Jonathan said:

    “I haven’t a clue how a “real Christian” life might actually look opposed to their secular neighbor. Their lives often look identical.”

    I have wrestled with this idea for a long time Jonathan. What I have learned is that although my outer life may (I emphasize “may”) look very similar to that of my secular family member or neighbor, IMO something altogether different is going on in my inner life. Also, one only needs to listen to the yammering of a militant secularist (like I did today at work!) to really see how much the Christian worldview should (or does?) look entirely different than theirs.

    I often feel like I am living in a parallel universe here in Germany!

  9. Kenneth Avatar
    Kenneth

    Fr. Stephen, thanks so much for this article. In your comment above, you said “There is no such thing as the absence of religion.” This is interesting and I don’t disagree, but I think it would be news to most people. Can you elaborate on this? What would be a good definition of religion?

    Your article also explains why modernity “frequently ridicules the classical tradition of fasting and asceticism.” I’m slowly understanding why fasting is so essential to the Orthodox life. It helps heal the sin of consumerism and leads us toward becoming more fully human. This is so much needed in our lives today (and always).

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is a struggle. I am a member of a very well-to-do parish and am on the bottom rung for wealth.

    The wealth of the parish and the generosity of our members has funded a beautiful, awe inspiring Cathedral and sanctuary. Fr. Stephen knows as he has been here.

    I am honored to give tours of it each year during our annual Lebanese Dinner. The tours are an explication of the faith and the Cross yet we pale in the light of some of the ancient Cathedrals in the Mediterranean world and Moscow (now overcome).

    The Christian faith is not an individual faith. We commune with our Lord and, through Him, each other in our victories and our struggles.

    The error of the western versions is to ignore the common struggle. Catholicism is all about the “faith and person of the Pope”. Protestantism is all about the individual acceptance of a fictional individual Jesus that often strips away the honor due our Lord’s Mother, the example of the saints and the glory of the Holy Angels we each can share in Orthodox prayer and worship which is both corporate and personal in the Holy Trinity.

    There are a lot of various stews out there that create equally false milleaus and stews. It is a tough balance to maintain.

    We here each struggle together by the Grace of the Holy Spirit even without knowing each other much. That sort of common struggle is unique to the Orthodox Church and includes those not yet fully and officially Orthodox.

    Christ is with us.

    Oh, and if any of you are in Wichita, KS, I would be honored to give you a tour. I learn something new each time.

  11. Job Avatar
    Job

    “Catholicism is all about the ‘faith and person of the Pope’. Protestantism is all about the individual acceptance of a fictional individual Jesus …”

    I was raised in a Protestant Christian home. I also volunteer at a Catholic non-profit organization with predominantly Catholic Christians. We prepare meals for an average of 250 to 300 low-income and homeless individuals and families daily. Many of the volunteers donate not only their time but also their own resources in the service of others. Thanks be to God for the presence of that organization in my community, which does more than just serve meals to the hungry. Neither of the statements above accurately reflect my faith or the faith of my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.

    I understand that this is an Orthodox blog written by an Orthodox priest, but I have been blessed to read it on occasion and blessed by the many thoughtful comments posted by other readers. Disparaging comments about “Catholicism” and “Protestantism” (or caricatures thereof) do nothing to enrich others or glorify God.

    Respectfully in Christ,

    Job

  12. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thank you Job.

  13. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Job,
    In my American experience, there seems to be a far greater ministry to and for the poor by Catholics than by either Protestants or Orthodox – though it’s very much a sort of “apples and oranges” sort of comparison. But, I also think that many Catholics are Catholics for reasons other than the papacy, and for reasons that are not dissimilar to why many Orthodox are Orthodox. Sweeping generalizations are usually inaccurate. Thank you for the note.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Job, forgive me, my statement was a broad generalization and as such quite faulty.

    If there were no Orthodox Church, I would seek to be a member of The Society of Friends.

    My experience with the Roman Catholics in my life has been without joy, Grace or mercy.

    The first time I stepped into an Orthodox Church, I was overwhelmed by the presence of mercy through the icon of the Theotokos and her Son above the altar. It was also a welcome home. That welcome has continued in the 37 years since despite my many sins and the sins of others.

    Jesus, His Mother, the Holy Angels and the Saints are actually present to me through the Orthodox Church.

    I have little care or interest in formal theology. The title of Fr. Stephen’s latest book says it: “Face to Face”

    I have known that basically in two places: walking with my friend Karl Berry in Detroit 50 years ago and seeing him be blessed to be Father Moses Berry, recently reposed, in the Orthodox Church and every time I enter an Orthodox Church and am still greeted by Mary with our Lord God and Savior on her lap and walk the way of the Cross to worshipping in their presence. Despite my dark and sinful soul.

    May His Mercy abound in your life and heart and may He bring you home.

    No other Christian dispensation

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “No other Christian dispensation”. Is a typo

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Job, I would be deeply honored to guide you on a tour of St. George Cathedral if you are ever in Wichita so that I could share a bit of the wonder, beauty and mercy there

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes: “No generalization is worth a damn…including this one.”

  18. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    “A good life may very well include an abundance of suffering, disease, and deprivation. ”

    For who? Whose life are we talking about? Much of a parent’s life is spent enduring suffering or at the inconvenience of an adult life, so that the child would be raised free of “suffering, disease, and deprivation.” I understand that suffering is inevitable and that hardship is going to come my son’s way. Part of being a good father (I think) is preparing my son to be sufficiently competent to cope. But, for now, I would like to keep his life “suffering, disease, and deprivation” free. I can’t imagine that fault can be found with that. But usually if you are capable of keeping your child’s life “”suffering, disease, and deprivation” free, then you are probably capable of doing it for yourself as well. I can’t see anything wrong with that.

  19. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    Of course every parent would rightly want to spare a child suffering, disease, and deprivation. And yet, if a child was, in fact, kept free of all such suffering, they could, in fact, turn out to lack the virtues that come through enduring such things. They could wind up self-centered, etc. What is required of us as parents is love (above all else). Love also requires discretion. I noted in the article that we do not seek to suffer (it comes pretty naturally). So, we also teach some appropriate level of self-denial for our children, so that, at an appropriate level, they can begin to acquire the virtues necessary to deal with the suffering, etc., that will be inevitable in their life – to “live a good life.” So that they can be good people.

    Modernity (in its distortions), is often driven by uncontrolled demands that refuse to accept the natural boundaries of normal suffering leading to all kinds of distortions in the world.

    Each of my children (all adults now), in their own turn, had to face unchosen, unavoidable suffering in their lives. They have each, in their own ways, revealed a depth of character in how they met those challenges. I cannot go into their full stories, but they each learned, in various ways, how to bear some level of suffering. Love would spare them – but if love becomes over-protective – it will smother virtue itself. And so, it requires discretion.

    And you wonder all along if you’re doing it right…and sometimes you get it wrong. But you work at it and you pray a lot…or so it has been for myself and my wife through these years.

  20. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Dear Fr Stephen, Christ has revealed something important in my heart through this post. I wish I had words for it. Thank you for writing what you know. Glory to God.

    Dana

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Job, I have spoken with my spiritual Father and from what he told me, I must ask your forgiveness and the forgiveness of others regarding my descriptions of the Catholic and Protestant belief systems. The descriptions were cruel and unnecessary. Not a reflection of the Church or Fr. Stephen either so I ask his forgiveness as well.

    God be with you.

  22. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Regarding children, it’s also worth remembering that few parents would want their child to experience a life without consequences resulting from the child’s actions.

    A simple but powerful moment for me was when my daughter was having the time of her life on a boat when she was still very young and a stray yellow jacket stung her. Immediately her bliss transformed into tragedy, and she kept saying to me between her tears, “I wasn’t doing anything!”

    I recall wanting so much that I could protect her from that discovery (i.e., sometimes the innocent suffer, and you don’t have to be at fault to feel pain). I do understand what Simon is talking about regarding parents and protectiveness toward their children.

    Nevertheless, if, for example, my daughter felt guilty because she had mistreated or neglected an animal she was supposed to care for, I would not want to shield her from that kind of suffering.

    The yellow jacket sting taught her a lesson, too, though: that she should not always think those around her “deserve” everything happening to them.

  23. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Secular and atheist complaints about suffering, particularly the suffering of the innocent, as an argument against the existence of God, are almost laughable to genuine Orthodox Christians. This is because, in Orthodox understanding, we have a vision of the “other side.” Our God is crucified, and He is exalted because of this. The temporary sufferings of this life cannot compare to the eternal glory awaiting those who achieve union with Him through the cross, leading to eternal resurrection. For us, suffering should be understood as a “sacrament.”

  24. KS Avatar
    KS

    Many thanks for this sensitive and insightful post along with the exchange with Simon. I sense that much injustice can be explained by these “uncontrolled demands” that fail to fathom that somebody must pay for satisfying Promethean desires for utopia in this world:

    “Modernity (in its distortions), is often driven by uncontrolled demands that refuse to accept the natural boundaries of normal suffering leading to all kinds of distortions in the world.”

  25. Justin Avatar
    Justin

    Simon, you said, “But usually if you are capable of keeping your child’s life “suffering, disease, and deprivation” free, then you are probably capable of doing it for yourself as well. I can’t see anything wrong with that.”

    That’s just it–and I don’t say this triumphantly at all–we are not capable. St Simeon said, “Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul…” The Mother of God suffered at her own child’s suffering. If she could not prevent it, I’m not so sure we can prevent the suffering of our children, either, or deflect that sword piercing our souls as parents.

    The only alleviation I can seem to provide my children is to suffer with them, to never let them be alone in it. All my kids are adults, now, and their trials still break my heart. Holy Mary knows and suffers with us all, as she suffers with her own Son. I’m beginning to see that is the Kingdom breaking in. I don’t understand it, but I see it.

  26. Job Avatar
    Job

    Michael,

    No need to ask for my forgiveness. You already have it my brother.

    Praise God that you found a home in the Orthodox Church. I did not.

    With love in Christ,

    Job

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Job, I had to fight for it. My first seven years were rough but I had a lot of reason to stay that went beyond the struggling priest and the largely unwelcoming congregation. Then I was blessed to become a part of my current congregation and a bishop who blessed us to stay.

    The present priest seems to be the best they have had so I am hopeful.

  28. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello again Michael.

    I am so sorry that your experience with Catholics in your life has been without joy and grace and mercy. As a cradle Catholic, then evangelical Protestant, then Orthodox seeker, then again Catholic maybe I bring a set of tools, so to speak, to the Church´s workshop that many do not. As such, maybe I am not the “typical” Catholic. All I can say is that since I have entered the Catholic Church (again) and have opened myself up to the sacraments in a very new way, I am experiencing joy and grace and mercy in ways that were not present in my nearly 30 years away from the Church. My hope and prayer is that I can share these new experiences with everyone I meet in winsome ways. I hope people will not say about me what you have said about the Catholics who you have met in your life.

    I realize that there are large differences between Catholics and Orthodox and that this is indeed an Orthodox blog. I will do my very best to not use this space to evangelize people into the Catholic Church, nor will I spend my time here splitting theological and spiritual hairs. I remain here as one who dearly loves and embraces Orthodox theology and spirituality, but who is also a Catholic and values much of what he is experiencing in that Church.

    I am currently reading “Introduction to Christianity” by (then) Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. He even talks about union with God. This is a source of joy and hope for me as I continue to unpack my Orthodoxy in a Catholic setting. Peace to you my brother Michael. Repent … for the kingdom of heaven is near. (Matthew 3:2)

  29. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Job,
    There are many loving and generous commentators on this blog. And I count Michael among them. Among these I’m the least generous about Protestantism. Nevertheless, while I don’t talk about him much on this blog, my grandfather was a Quaker (Friends) farmer, descendent of many generations of Quaker farmers, the original ancester arriving the the Americas on William Penn’s boat. He was a true Christian in every sense of the word. And in my now Orthodox way of thinking I believe he was a saint.

  30. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    As we talk about suffering and the virtue that our Lord may raise from it, I want to say a little more here about my grandfather, my father’s father.

    I didn’t get to know him as a young child, but only after my parents died suddenly in a car accident. I elected for my brother and myself, teen orphans, to enter a boarding school that my father’s side attended since its inception, a couple of centries back.

    That place had a long history with my farming family, whose children were far from wealth and, at times, struggled mightily to keep their farms. My father was raised on a farm, and all my life I wished I was raised on a farm too. But now I’m married to a farmer and count such a life (still quite rough) blessed.

    Returning to my grandfather and the boarding school. The school was a Friends school as was my father’s ancestors. There I learned what it was to be a Quaker and count this experience as a blessing. We students were all required to go to the Quaker meeting. This was my “anti-Christian” period in my heart/mind. Nevertheless, this Meeting house was one of the original in the area and held to the “silence” most of the time. When any did speak, typically it was quite edifying, even for the rebellious teen that I was.

    This was the period I got to know my beloved grandfather. Love wells up in my heart when I think of him and my Quaker elders. One of whom, if I were to be gently scolded for some reason (sneaking a cigarette) they would revert to and use the old language, and address me in the King James version of the language (e.g. “I love Thee”).

    I bring up my grandfather because he wasn’t a garrulous fellow–far from it. If the kids got too rambunctious in the house he would quietly move to another room. On such an occasion I followed him and sat with him. I don’t know why but on that occasion I asked him about his experience in WWI. Being in the military service and killing people was very ‘anti-Quaker’ and I wanted to learn more about how he came to be in it. So I asked him in a simple, child-like way, “Grandfather, what did you do?” He took a few moments before speaking and simply said, “I was an ambulance driver.” I knew only a little about such positions, and when I asked where he mentioned it was on the front lines in Europe. He didn’t say more about it, and in respect for him and his silence, I didn’t ask more.

    Since that quiet conversation, I have learned much more about the lives of such ambulance drivers in that war. And I came to the realization how much suffering likely made him one of the gentlest, quietly loving people I have ever met.

    Father, like Dana, this article came at an important moment. Thank you so much for your timely words. Glory to God!

  31. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Job,
    One of my beefs with evangelization practices in the Orthodox Church is the result of how much I have seen what has taken place in other confessions. It seems much unfortunate endeavors, certainly not all, come via the “helping” activities of these organizations. Often, such works, while on the surface, are altruistic, but on a deeper level, show the drive to bring people (and prospective incomes) into their institutions or some other, unChristian motives. I apologize if this observation is offensive. However, I am also a descendant of the Native American Peoples, (my Grandfather on my mothers’ side was enrolled in the Oklahoma Muskogi Seminoles and my mother was raised traditional in their ways). The suffering that resulted from the “helping activities” was greater, and I am (and the heart and mind that I have) the living result of the offenses that such “helping activities” have brought through the western Churches.

    I have no love whatsoever for Protestantism. But for some Protestants, yes. Whatever has harmed my ancestors and me, I pray that Our Lord makes good as He wills.

  32. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    “Of course every parent would rightly want to spare a child suffering, disease, and deprivation. And yet, if a child was, in fact, kept free of all such suffering, they could, in fact, turn out to lack the virtues that come through enduring such things.”

    I’m reminded of studies which found that taking peanuts out of schools actually caused a great increase in peanut allergies. Total removal of the “aggravant” was not the answer.

    As a father I always found my role was to moderate the suffering and deprivation that my children experienced, not totally eliminate it. Their bodies, minds and hearts cannot learn to deal with what they never encounter. Some things, of course, should never be encountered if at all possible – and that’s where the moderator role comes in. But much should be, because they’re going to run into it as adults once they’re out of my care.

  33. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Drewster, et al
    My parents belonged to what is now called the “Greatest Generation.” They were born in 1924 to farming families (my Dad’s family were sharecroppers – which is as poor as a farmer in the South could get). My mom grew up on a family farm of about 100 acres with 12 children, one of whom died at age 12 with rheumatoid arthritis. My Dad was in WWII while my mother worked in a sewing room during the war. After the war, Dad became an auto mechanic and we lived quite modestly. The picture accompanying this article is of the trailer they lived in when they retired. It is a symbol to me of a hard live, that both of them managed to see become “a good life.”

    But the “Greatest Generation” is called that precisely because of what they endured and how they did it. They were not born great, but circumstances forced it on them. If you could wave a wand and make the Great Depression disappear, and WWII along with it, I suppose all of us would take up the wand. Many millions of lives would be spared.

    But human beings are not created to manage history – regardless of how bitterly we complain to God and anyone who will listen about how history could/should have been different. Our faith doesn’t teach us that we live in the best of all possible worlds nor that the world is without suffering and tragedy. It teaches us that God has entered into the suffering, made it His own, and is transforming us and the world towards the “Good.” It is a good that we likely only catch glimpses of in this life. It is a faith, however, whose evidence is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise that He has given us. He is our evidence of the good to come.

  34. Constantine Avatar
    Constantine

    Greetings Father,
    Thank you for the post. It comes most providentially as I find myself questioning the various sufferings that a man comes across.

    In regards to suffering, it does seem that there is a certain type that almost appears unavoidable and not able to be alleviated in any way, where the most beneficial thing appears to be enduring it along with Christ. Other times, suffering exhibits a more cautionary/corrective nature, where it might be best avoided, or experienced just once, as in the case of a young child touching a hot stove and getting burned.

    What I struggle with is when there is a sort of suffering that can be alleviated or removed, while also being beneficial to endure. In this, I envision a person being sick. It would be a possibility to endure the full brunt of infirmity, the suffering of which can be affixed to Christ’s Cross, but you could also visit a doctor and lessen the suffering. I wouldn’t mean this in the way where modern medicine would suggest euthanasia to end suffering at any cost, but more like in the case of helping to treat a curable illness sooner than it would run its natural course, or make an incurable one more bearable.

    St. Basil the Great’s works and Basiliad does make it apparent that it shouldn’t be the wrong thing, but I do wonder if the communion of suffering can also be participated into by means of thanksgiving for the easement of suffering?

  35. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Constantine,
    You’ve described things quite well. I think we frequently have a voluntary aspect regarding our suffering – the most dramatic can be make choices about things like cancer treatments. But there are many lesser things that we choose to endure. All of our ascetical endeavors are voluntary – and there is an asceticism of bearing an illness. Thank God we have a confessor/spiritual father to help us when we wrestle with such things.

    If we can bear something with thanksgiving – no doubt it can be of great benefit. But thanksgiving for the easement of suffering is beneficial as well. To give thanks in all things is a true spiritual achievement. Difficult and salutary.

  36. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    “I haven’t a clue how a “real Christian” life might actually look opposed to their secular neighbor. Their lives often look identical.”

    I do not mean this in any disparaging manner, but it is the regular argument of many atheists. “Look, I work in the soup kitchen as well”; “I can be good without God”; etc…. But the focus of Christianity is Salvation, through communion with God and Creation. This is much deeper than simply doing “good works” or knowing your neighbor’s name. There is so much more….

    I think these things are only revealed when times are hard, collapse is close, our “safety bubble” in the world is popped and we are naked and vulnerable. The act(s) of Salvation and Communion should see that the “good works” do not end (the widow’s mite). The fear of shame, impoverishment, and/or death should be drowned out (in our hearts, at least) in Thanksgiving and hope. I think the difference in focus is, as has been said, we see and know Christ is with us. This realization of more (or, perhaps, “fullness”) is the difference between a secular and Christian life.

    I also want to say that much of this discussion makes me think of the wonderful film, A Hidden Life, which speaks to so many things being discussed here.

  37. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Byron, Jonathan,
    There’s a very good reason that the next door secularist is hard to distinguish from the Christian (and vice versa). Tom Holland in his very interesting book, Dominion, has made a very persuasive case that Christianity long ago won the “culture war” with paganism – and that Western Civilization is decidedly Christian in most respects. It is certainly the case that there would be no such thing as our present Western Civilization without the rise of Christianity.

    The secularist engages in charitable work because he/she lives in a culture that was originally shaped by Christian thought. Even the “Woke” movement is, at the very least, a Christian heresy rather than anything else. As misguided as its ideas are – they are rooted in a distorted version of Christian compassion – not otherwise.

    If you pay attention to these things, you might have seen a number of leading atheists now admitting that they are at least “culturally Christian” and would not want to be otherwise. The modern secularist is a culture Christian. The challenge for believers, of course, is to be something more than this.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What I have seen lately is that we are layered, multi-dimensional beings. At least four layers with our Lord in the fourth/fifth dimension.

    Those who do not seek Him can live just as we seem to but without the depth and scope. Most live only in two or three.

    The Christian however seeks the Kingdom of Heaven within. To really find it, according to Holy Scripture and the Church, one must repent.

    Folks who do not know or care about Him never repent. At most they feel sorry for hurting someone.

    Repentance is much more and creates a path to deeper levels. Matthew 4:16: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

    Repentance is the activity of saints but each of us can share in some of the activity and it’s blessings.
    “Forgive me, a sinner.”
    That sets us apart.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    We also place our hope in the Lord.

  40. Job Avatar
    Job

    Matthew,

    I’ve read much praise for Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity.” I have a copy sitting on my shelf but haven’t yet read it.

    If interested, two books I often recommend to my Catholic brothers and sisters are “Where There is Love, There is God” and “A Call to Mercy.” Both are collections of talks and letters by, and testimonials, about Mother Teresa, who is very dear to my heart.

    Christ is the Light that will never be extinguished.
    Christ is the Way that will never go wrong.
    Christ is the Truth that will conquer.
    Christ is the Life that will never die.
    If we have Jesus, we have all.
    (from a letter Mother Teresa wrote to a co-worker, Sept. 11, 1967)

    Job

  41. Katia Avatar
    Katia

    Father, I understand what you mean about not seeking out suffering, but what are we to make of the martyrs who did just that, especially in the first centuries?

  42. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Job.

    “Christ is the Light that will never be extinguished.
    Christ is the Way that will never go wrong.
    Christ is the Truth that will conquer.
    Christ is the Life that will never die.
    If we have Jesus, we have all.” – Mother Teresa

    I couldn´t agree more.

  43. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Katia,
    I make it a rule of thumb never to judge saints (or especially the martyr saints). Nonetheless, it is generally true and wise that we should not seek to suffer – apart from the asceticism (self-denial) that God asks of us. There are obviously exceptions.

  44. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    It is very difficult for most of us 21st century western folk to comprehend the ardour of the early martyrs that were aflame with love for their crucified Lord and rushed eagerly to martyrdom with nothing but joy. If you read the letter to Romans by St Ignatius, (a hymn to being martyred for the Lord, and a plea for nothing to come in the way of martyrdom) you cannot say you are reading the words of a madman, even if you utterly misconstrue everything he says, there’s something, a sine qua non, about them, which can only be denied as folly very superficially. The love planted by Christ in his heart is overflowing.
    Grace gave those saints a fiery zeal, but also, often, a very deep philosophically sound understanding of being, including of all sufferings.
    There is a deep ‘crucificial’ mystery to contemplate in all suffering, more so as it pertains to the innocent. A said earlier that secular voices lament it, revealing their blindness to the true nature of our existence. What they see in unwarranted sufferings is the greatest stumbling block, their best argument against the very existence of a good God.
    To those who walk in the light of the Orthodox faith however, such myopic arguments against the existence of God point to a profound misunderstanding of creation, of our crucified God, and of His omnipotent providence. We have been granted a unified vision of this and the ‘other side’ through the cross and resurrection, a glimpse of the eternal reality beyond this transient world.
    Our God is a God who, we could say, was most glorified in being crucified, and it is precisely through the mystery of His cross that we start to perceive the breadth and depth of this divine, eternal exaltation. The cross and resurrection stands as the Incarnate Victor’s testimony eternally transcending suffering. This way all sufferings of this fleeting life become but a brief shadow that pales in comparison to the eternal glory awaiting those who unite themselves to Christ through the cross. For us, suffering is not merely a tragic aspect of our human condition; it is the great sacrament, a means of drawing ontologically closer to Christ, a path to resurrection and life, a sacred draw to deeper communion with the crucified and exalted One, and, furthermore through His grace are not felt as sufferings

  45. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dino,
    Indeed. This is perhaps one of the things that most contradicts the assumptions of modernity (as a philosophical system).

  46. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, Dino, Where does repentance fit in the path you describe? Is it not a door?

  47. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Thank you Dee, for your kind comments about MichaeL. I relate so much with your family and background too. Michael has probably not mentioned it here but he had a stroke in Jan. 2023. He lives with many aftereffects now and yet is still sharing God and his faith with great love. It was a mild stroke but has left some damages that he is learning to cope with, on our journey thru this adventure of growing older. I came to Orthodoxy thru Michael and it is a true transformation in Chrismation.
    We were married in the little Native American Methodist church I belonged to. While it was Methodist, the native ways, prayers, songs,and blessings struck Michael with how they were so like the Orthodox.
    (I was blessed to get to visit St Hermans church outside Fairbanks, when I was there a few yrs ago.). I was raised Episcopal,;joined the Catholic church in college; raised my kids in Methodist, Christian,and Friends churches; visited many faiths and belief systems in my lifetime-inc!uding New Age briefly. So I understand much of what everyone is saying here. God showed me clearly that I was HOME when I walked into St George Orthodox Cathedral for the first time. The Jesus I met as a young child and gave my heart to was there -above the alter- looking exactly as I had seen him. Mary, our beloved holy Mother was there too. I met Her in a very personal encounter after the death of my second son.
    I was stunned at first. In my whole life I had never seen a picture of Jesus that actually looked exactly like the Jesus I knew. God is for everyone, as are Jesus and Mary. For me, the Orthodox faith has been rather like finding the source of a stream I had followed for years. Modernity and society do conflict with, or try to overwhelm, our beliefs and faith. It is up to us to stand strong and stand up for what we know is right.
    God bless Father Stephen and all who comment here. I learn from all of his posts and comments.

  48. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I have been pondering this idea of giving thanks for all things. At first glance, it is repulsive to me. On two counts. First, how could I give thanks for the brutality shown to children? Second, how could I give thanks for what I have done to others? Does “all things” mean only the “suffering, disease, and deprivation” I endure? I think that what we mean by “all things” needs to be clarified because whenever we speak in the absolute it is almost always meaningless. What do we really mean by giving thanks for all things (GiTFAT)? Do we really mean everything? What about the suffering I have caused others? What about the how I may have hurt my son by passing on generational trauma? What is the intention behind GiTFAT? What is it supposed to do for the soul? What is it supposed to do for how the attention is directed? Away from one’s immediate circumstances? Sure. But, there are plenty of mental hacks for doing that. What are we really talking about here?

  49. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I’ve thought long and hard on this as well. I cannot begin to recount how many arguments I had with my dear Father-in-law when he put this forward to me…I argued tooth and nail. Over time, I saw that he was not alone (lots of the spiritual fathers in the Church said the same thing, and even St. Paul). But, eventually, I quit arguing and began to ponder – to seriously ponder – including beginning to practice it on a beginning level, increasing over time. At certain points, it’s still a struggle.

    It has changed the meaning of “giving thanks” to a certain degree. I think that when we give thanks for the “good” things we’re often doing something that can be confused with being glad that the good thing happened. It doesn’t pierce the eucharistic depth of the giving of thanks. If you will, it simply has no “mystical” element to it – I need not unite myself with Christ, much less Christ crucified, in such an action.

    Thus, “giving thanks for all things” does not mean that I’m happy with all things. It doesn’t mean that I’m saying “It’s ok.” It is a piercing into the depth of whatever happens into union with the crucified Christ-who-is-present-even-in-the-bad-stuff. The giving of thanks in that manner is an offering of self in union with Christ to the Father. In my experience, it still comes out with the words, “I give you thanks.”

    I hope that’s of some use – at least in explaining what it means for me.

    I recently had an experience at the altar (I was concelebrating). As the priest was consecrating the bread and wine, and preparing to lift them saying, “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee…” My mind was gathering up the 25 years of my life at St. Anne. I was remembering everyone who had ever been there…including some with whom I had difficulties (painful difficulties). It was like the whole of it being gathered together at the same time, including my own mistakes and errors, my own actions that hurt others – the whole mess. And it was that whole thing that was united with the bread and wine as they were elevated and offered to the Father. I certainly wasn’t saying, “Thank you that I acted stupidly, or whatever.” But I was not excluding even my sins from what was being offered. “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin…” (2Cor. 5). The whole of it came out, though, as thanksgiving.

    So, it varies.

  50. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Michael,
    The best door.

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Does not giving thanks for all things embrace the mystery of The Cross?

  52. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Michael,
    Yes. Without fail.

  53. Job Avatar
    Job

    On the topic of giving thanks for all things I’m reminded of Job 2:10.

    In Ch. 2, after Job is afflicted with a grievous burning rash, he rebukes his wife for suggesting that he curse God and die, saying, “Shall we accept good from God, too, and evil we shall not accept?” (Job 2:10) This comes after Job loses all his children and his livestock and he falls to the earth and says, “The LORD has given and the LORD has taken. May the LORD’s name be blessed.”

    An online rabbinic commentary contrasts Job’s statements and actions with those of ancient pagans who honored their gods when things went well but cursed them when calamities fell upon them. Israel, according to the rabbis, was not meant to be this way but to give thanks when bestowed with bounty and when experiencing suffering and adversity.

  54. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    “I did my best, it wasn’t much
    I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
    I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya
    And even though it all went wrong
    I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah”

    I think that I’m all in on the “broken Hallelujah.”

  55. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Merry,
    Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. I loved reading it! I’m grateful for your presence, and Michael’s over the years on this blog. And I’m also deeply sorry to hear about his stroke. It takes much strength of heart and mind to face and embrace our hardships and sufferings as we age. I pray that Our Lord bless you both with much joy and comfort.

  56. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, as we age and get afflicted “with the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”, we see the marriage as “one flesh” in a more literal light.
    Fortunately, my stroke was a really mild one. The deficits it caused quite random.

    Still, I am learning to give thanks for it and glory to God. That is a work in progress, but part of my thanksgiving is the repentance that is part of the process. A repentance that seems to open a door to Joy indescribable.

    The challenge is to go deeply enough without doubting. Another one of those experiences that continue to reveal the Truth of the Church that is at heart of the structure of theology and Sacrament that is the Holy Orthodox Church–the Body of Christ.

    Thank you for your prayers.

  57. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I am certainly not a priest or a bishop. I don´t have a theological degree nor am I very far on the journey of spiritual transformation.

    That said, I have been a Christian for many years, so maybe what I have to say about suffering from a Christian perspective might have some value. There was a long time when I thought suffering was absolutely incompatible with belief in Jesus Christ. Then I began to question this belief. I remember asking “Well what about suffering and its possible value?” to a group of people in an Assemblies of God church. I received no answer.

    Then as I began to revisit Catholicism as well as open the door to Orthodoxy, the problem (or gift?) of suffering became more pronounced in my life since classical Christianity (I think) views suffering through a very different lens. I hear what Fr. Stephen and Dino are saying about suffering and its inherent value. I also hear the problems many classical Christians have with how the modern world thinks about and handles suffering. Attempting to say suffering is only an illusion or trying to snuff suffering out at all costs is also misguided if not altogether wrong.

    That said, I wish to strike a healthy balance. For as much as St. Paul admonishes us to be joyful, even in suffering, I also think the New Testament witness as well as the witness of the Church throughout the ages has been one of healing and restoration (both spritual and physical). God´s kindness brings repentance. Jesus healed people during his earthly ministry. The Church built hospitals.

    All this to say that while suffering may indeed be sacramental and necessary for our salvation, I think it is also something the Church should attempt to alleviate in people´s lives. I think the better counsel is to say that when suffering comes (and it will) God will use it for our good and our salvation, but until it comes let us continue to be stewards of healing and renewal in the lives of every human being.

    Just my take. Thanks for always hearing me out.

  58. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    Yes. It is the “secret song.”

  59. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    I almost wanted to reply that “it goes without saying.” The difference between our proper care for the poor, sick, hungry, etc. and modernity’s false promises can be found in acknowledging our weakness – that “the poor you have with you always.” Modernity thinks that suffering can be eliminated. And, frequently, its solution is kill (abortion, euthanasia, etc.), imagining that such measures are compassionate and moral.

    In Orthodoxy, we have a “class” of saints called the “Holy Unmercenaries.” (Probably in Rome as well) They are healers – who took no pay.

  60. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much for the clarification Fr. Stephen. I understand. You have taught me SO much about the problems of modernity. As I read the late Pope Benedict´s book, it seems he too has similar problems with the modern world and its way of doing things. Just because something is new and improved, does not necessarily make it benefical in the long, long run of things.

    I shared with my mother-in-law who is now 85 (I think) and is in a nursing home about what I have been reading in Introduction to Christianity. I tried to explain to her all we (in the west) lost with the Enlightenment, like jettisoning questions of being in exchange for purely scientific and rational observations and explanations. She listened to me, but then quickly added “But we also gained so much … like advances in physics (she enjoys physics)”.

    That is about where the conversation ended. My mother-in-law believes in God in a general sense, but she is a highly enculturated German woman who was raised in a liberal (from an American perspective) Lutheran church. She so fears any explanation that she views as “Middle Ages”. It amazes me how blind people really can be in the modern world.

  61. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    Your response to Simon on why we give thanks for all things was excellent. I would really like to see it be a blog post on its own. This definition is probably a lot more unknown and unobvious than we realize.

  62. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    It may also go without saying that the Orthodox Church is The Church Christ founded. It is not a church among churches to compare, weighed, found wanting, etc. and then opt for it as one’s personal option or not. It seems to me this is a very Western perspective of what The Church is. I didn’t gloss over your words “comparing apples and oranges”. There is a lot to unpack in so few words.

    There are those who have no ‘options’ in their vicinity. There is another situation in which, when presented with the Church, it doesn’t fit with personal criteria.

    Over the period of my participation on this blog, commentators of other confessions have wished to push back on this “Orthodox thinking” as some sort of bias that all churches have. It seems in these circumstances it is never accepted as Truth but as yet another representation of a modernist way of thinking about one’s personal preferences. I suppose I’m writing this to push back on such thinking.

  63. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Dee said:

    “Over the period of my participation on this blog, commentators of other confessions have wished to push back on this “Orthodox thinking” as some sort of bias that all churches have. It seems in these circumstances it is never accepted as Truth but as yet another representation of a modernist way of thinking about one’s personal preferences. I suppose I’m writing this to push back on such thinking.”

    As a Catholic, I too push back against modernist ways of thinking about personal preferences as well as ecclesiatical/confession(s) differences. I realize this is an Orthodox blog Dee, but please remember that Catholics also believe they are the Church that Christ founded and they have their reasons, their apologists, their arguments, etc. for believing this.

    Personally, I pray for unity between all confessions without being “wishy-washy” about what I think about the Catholic as well as the Orthodox claims of being the one, true Church. May they be one as Christ and the Father are one.

    Peace to you my sister. Truly.

  64. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear non-Orthodox friends,
    I want to mention that my last comment is not a judgment about you or others. Rather, I return to what the Orthodox say about themselves because of what others wish to ignore as irrelevant. ‘This is an Orthodox blog’ implies that the truths stated about it (the Orthodox Church is The Church) are treated as just an opinion. I’m saying that this isn’t just my opinion or an opinion of the Orthodox Church. It is reality, not some triumphalism.

    Please forgive me if I offend you. These words are not intended to offend.

  65. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Beloved Matthew,
    I think of you as Orthodox.

  66. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello Dee.

    I am feeling rather torn. I want to engage you on this, but at the same time I want to respect Fr. Stephen and what he is trying to do here. I will not use this space to argue for the Catholic Church, but I contend that I carry all my Orthodoxy with me into Her arms.

    If people want to know about what is really going on between the Orthodox and the Catholics in terms of healing the centuries long schism, they have the internet. I for one will no longer discuss it in this space. My goal here is to glean what is necessary to further my union with God and my personal spiritual transformation.

    That is what is most important to me right now.

  67. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Dee.

  68. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee,
    I don’t have an ecumenical bone in my body (I have stated this from time-to-time). The unity for which we pray in every liturgy is a union in the fullness of Orthodoxy. There have been some notable examples of such unity. St. Basil the Great worked tirelessly for the re-union of the semi-Arian bishops who had strayed from the Nicene faith – and was very generous in those efforts. They were largely achieved – and restored in the unity of the Orthodox fullness. His canons directing how to receive various “converts” into the Church are an example of his generous use of economia to achieve that desired union.

    There should never be a notion of a compromised unity – in which we “agree to disagree.” The truth is, Orthodoxy struggles to maintain unity within itself – between Patriarchs and jurisdictions, etc. It was Christ’s great prayer described by St. John. To be one, “even as I and the Father are one.”

    We have a significant number of Catholic readers on the blog – most of whom clearly exercise a lot of patience and glean useful information and insight (apparently). I prefer not to make it too hard for them (within the rules of the blog).

    Ecclesiology is the single most difficult topic within Christianity. Protestantism avoided the subject from its inception, in that it began as “multiple churches.” Even Orthodoxy struggles with ecclesiology – witness our problems with jurisdictions and the present distress over who can grant autocephaly, etc.

    In the early days of the blog, I wrote a series of articles on the topic of ecclesiology – it is the Church as the Cross through history.

    I commend it to all.

  69. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee,
    You’re all good. BTW, I sometimes say that everyone is Orthodox but they just don’t know it yet. The Church did not begin in 33 AD, but when God said, “Let there be light.” The Church is God uniting the world to Himself – the mystery hidden from all the ages.

    Be blessed!

  70. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “Whatever dialog the Church has within itself (between “Churches” as the Orthodox would say) or with those with whom there is schism, the dialog must be rooted in the mind of Christ, the self-emptying love of God. This in no way calls for an ignoring of dogma, for dogma itself is but a verbal icon of Christ (to use a phrase of Fr. Georges Florovsky). But to “speak the truth in love” is to speak from within the mind of Christ, that is, from within His self-emptying love. There is no sin that such love does not heal, no emptiness that this Emptiness cannot fill. Our hope is in Christ, thus we shall not be ashamed (Romans 5:5).”

    Thanks for this Fr. Stephen. I hope to reflect this and live this out in my own life, ministry and mission.

    I will be taking a break from the blog for the remaining summer months. I have a lot to think and pray about. I wish you all well and look forward to reconnecting in the next autumn (for those in the northern hemisphere) of our lives.

    Glory To God For All Things!

  71. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father ,
    Thank you for your words a reassurance. I’ll read your articles, too.

  72. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, Our Lord be with you and bless you abundantly with His presence and direction. Matthew 4:17

  73. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    How am I supposed to get through August without you?

  74. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    To be more precise: one’s understanding of “The Church” is greatly influenced by one’s understanding of what it is to be human and what sin is.

    I was quite blessed, I received an overwhelming welcome from Mary through her icon, ‘More Spacious Than the Heavens’.

    With her arms wide open in welcome and the warmth of her greeting, I have never had a question. So, it is difficult sometimes to understand the more cautious dogmatic approach.

    My life late wife and I were looking for a place in which to worship. Driving down the street one day, my late wife pointed and said: “What about that one”.

    I grew up in that neighborhood and yet had no clue what kind of Church it was. The rest is a work in process.

  75. Nikolaos Avatar
    Nikolaos

    Fr Stephen

    “Of course every parent would rightly want to spare a child suffering, disease, and deprivation. And yet, if a child was, in fact, kept free of all such suffering, they could, in fact, turn out to lack the virtues that come through enduring such things.”

    As I am heading to Kefalonia, the island blessed with the incorrupt relics of St Gerasimos, your words remind me the insight offered by another lesser known (even to Greeks) local Saint, St Panagis Basias, to a pious mother that lost both of her sons and turned against God.

    The miracle he performed can be read here:
    https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2009/06/saint-panagis-paisios-basias-of.html

    In Argostoli there lived a rich family consisting of a husband and wife and their two children. They were a very pious family, especially the wife who often performed good works. After a time the husband died and the woman was left widowed with two children. This event caused the widow to zealously perform even greater good deeds, helping those who suffered and the poor, visiting the sick and helping them in their homes, visiting the sick also in hospitals and those in prison, and lead many to greater faith in Christ.

    When her oldest child reached 21 years of age, they were all seated at the dinner table when he felt a sharp pain in his head. They brought him to his bed and called the doctor while the mother sought refuge before her icon-corner and prayed all night for her son to the Theotokos. The next morning her son passed away.

    Very mournful, the mother of the child continued performing her good christian deeds. After about a year had passed her other child also felt a sharp pain in his head at the dinner table and collapsed. They called the doctor and he informed the child’s mother that there was no hope in saving his life. She again sought refuge all night before her icons in the saving power of God, the Theotokos and Saint Gerasimos. The next day the doctor informed her that her younger son died as well.

    The woman had suffered enough. She became very angry at her situation and constantly cursed God and His Saints, forsaking as well all her good deeds she had been perfoming. She also became reclusive and refused visitors from entering her home. At this time she also gave two photographs of her sons to a good artist to reproduce, and placed these paintings in her living room on opposite sides of the walls. She also placed an oil lamp next to each photo and lit it once in a while and often spoke to her children through their paintings.

    One day Papa-Basias travelled to Argostoli holding his cane and immediately went to the house of this sorrowful woman. He knocked on the door and she saw an unfamiliar priest from her window, causing her to swear at him telling him to leave. At his third knock he calmly asked to let him in because he had something to tell her, but she just swore at him again. Papa-Basias then said: “Either you open, or I’ll open”, and with his cane he made the sign of the Cross over the door and immediately the door opened on its own. Papa-Basias entered the house and began climbing the stairs, leaving the woman who saw this voiceless out of fright and unable to say a word.

    Papa-Basias then headed for the living room and told the woman to follow him. He opened the door to the living room and told the woman to sit in the corner to see something she never expected. As Papa-Basias began to pray the two photographs came off the ceiling and became alive in the middle of the room. The two young men in the photos began to fire bullets at one another to the point where they both fell dead. Afterwards the portraits returned to their places as if nothing happened. This phenomenon frightened the woman very much.

    Papa-Basias then explained to the woman: “My lady, God in his love for you saved you from seeing what you just saw, and took your two children away by a natural death instead. Your two children had fallen in love with the same woman, and they would have died in the same way as you saw. For this reason you should now repent and thank God and continue in your former christian way of life.”

    The woman indeed repented and performed even greater christian deeds than ever before with all the strength of her soul and body.

  76. Job Avatar
    Job

    Vaya con Dios, Matthew.

  77. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Dear Matthew, I’m so glad you feel free to “talk” here. You’re a blessing. May Christ draw you & your wife ever closer to Himself. Looking forward to seeing you again in the Fall.

    Dana

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  1. About those “Christian Romance” novels you mentioned: there is a certain irony that properly-written romances with strong Christian undercurrents aren’t…

  2. The consumer-driven religious life has resulted in Churches that major in personal fulfillment with little attention to doctrine and sacrament.…

  3. Fr. Stephen, At times like this I find it helpful to remind myself that God promised the fullness of life,…


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