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Letter from the Editor

Friday, June 6th, 2014

monks1

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

—Paschal Troparion, sung by monks in Kiev standing in the line of fire between police and protesters

Dear friends,
Likely you are aware of the events that have swept Ukraine onto front pages everywhere and to the brink of civil war in recent weeks. You probably know too that by January 19th, three people had been killed by police, crude barricades had been erected in the Maidan––Kiev’s central Freedom Square—between police and protesters, government buildings had been occupied by loosely organized protesters, and the police were mandated to be tough in restoring public order. And that the first of many fires were lit as the city began to burn.

You have no doubt seen the pictures of the monks who, on the morning of the 20th, stepped into the middle and stood on the Maidan between riot-ready police and angry protesters and said no to violence. The protesters had invited them to side with the people after the Church had been asked to support the government. They did neither. They demanded peaceful resolution and risked their own lives as proof of their seriousness.

Why am I mentioning it here? Is it because since the 20th things have gotten so out of hand and complicated in Ukraine, as these kinds of dramas have so often of late, that I will now pretend to have something new and profound to say about it?
No. I have nothing. I do not pretend to understand the complicated workings of Ukraine’s politics or society––or the virtue and violence that are manifest on all sides––and the further down this road Ukraine goes, the harder it will be to sort out. Instead I want to zero in on one thing, perhaps the thing, in this story that I think matters in the midst of it all:
The monks got it right!

They got faith right. They got courage right. They got love right. They got the Church as mediator right. They got their apolitical witness right, regardless of their personal political perspectives. Their apolitical, Saint-like action before the entire world––which seems to have barely noticed––showed Christians that we are in control of our witness and that Christ-like witness matters in every arena. They showed us that outcomes should not matter to us but that God is in control of outcomes.

For a brief moment, however, a crack appeared in the fortress-like wall of violence that helps hold the gates of hell in place. A moment of solidarity formed, as clergy from other Orthodox jurisdictions—the fathers who led were of the Russian Patriarchate, symbolically significant because they would have been presumed to side with the government and did not officially represent the demographic of most of the protesters—came and stood with them. At least one Protestant minister did too, and a Catholic priest, and a very small handful of the civilian population; a few police prayed with the monks and sang the Paschal Troparion but didn’t join them, though since then no small number have defected from their ranks. An Orthodox website published a document called Statement of Clergy and Faithful on the Situation in Ukraine condemning violence, strictly calling the government and all others in positions of influence to immediately engage in dialogue, and calling on all to pray and begin behaving like Christians. It is a stiffly worded document and pledges all who signed it (including many clergy from various Orthodox juris-dictions––themselves showing unusual solidarity in these days) to repentance and a renewed commitment to Christian deportment in their conduct in the public interest.

Briefly, then, for the space of a held breath, it seems, the police held their fire and the people said they would hold their stones for as long as the monks stood there. But what if all the Christians had dropped what they held in their hands—the police their guns, and the protesters their Molotov cocktails and rocks—and had instead stood with them? Would the crack have widened? Would it have become a chasm through which grace would pour?

On February the 20th, a truce called by the Ukrainian president, prior to which twenty-six people had died, ended after less than twelve hours as violence not only re-erupted, but rapidly escalated. In less than a few hours, police had killed between seventy and a hundred people and injured many more as protesters took police hostage, threw fire bombs, and some with guns shot back. A video was released later in the morning of a police sniper lying prone on the grass and carefully shooting towards the crowd as other officers stood nervously by—they were clearly not under attack. Reports say many of the protesters from among the crowds in the Maidan died from single gunshots to their heads. Another video showed a police officer on fire, the victim of a thrown Molotov cocktail.

Words fail.

The next day, news came that the interior minister, who was responsible for carrying out the strategy of violence in dealing with the protesters, had been sacked and the President had signed an agreement with opposition leaders. A few days later, after more violence, the President went into exile. Today, a scanty calm holds as political tension builds and a new government forms. Will the crack widen or will the edifice of violence strengthen? Tomorrow the news may swing the other way again. But I close with a thought on the lasting accomplishment of the monks.

The monks who led in their incredible witness to peace were not naïve and they did not fail. We don’t know who didn’t die because of their courage or how their resolute faith mitigated against the totality of violence or ultimate protraction of the conflict, or how Christians watching, indeed the Church, were strengthened in their faith. We don’t know––but be assured, no action is without its residual effects. We must only choose our action. Standing for peace and choosing non-violence is not a strategy with a desired outcome like civil, political, or military strategies are. Nor is it for the uncertain, the weak, or the cowardly––read the interview with them that follows this letter and look again at the pictures and determine for yourself what kind of men they are. Heaven is populated with Saints such as these.

Hear them as they sing!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Who knows how much worse the world would be if we didn’t pray, or how much better it will become if we do? God help us all to pray.

Courage, my friends!

Pieter Dykhorst

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:10-17).

Courage between Rocks and Guns

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

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The following interview with Hieromonk Melchizedeck (Gordenko) and monk Gabriel (Kairasov) appeared in Orthodoxy in Ukraine, a Ukrainian language website on January 30th.

by Lado Gegechkori

HIEROMONK MELCHIZEDECK (GORDENKO) and monk Gabriel (Kairasov), on the night of February 20th, stood risking their lives on Grushevsky Street in Kiev between the police and the demonstrators, and in this way stopped the bloodshed for entire days.

LG: Tell us, fathers, what made you to go out to the street that day?

Fr. M: Once a long time ago I saw a photograph from Serbia, in which one priest was standing between the police and the demonstrators. I was filled with admiration for him—one man with a cross in his hands was able to stop a thousand people on one side, and a thousand on the other!

Our Desyatina Monastery is located very close to the epicenter of these events—even at night in the church we could hear fireworks, shouting from megaphones, and the noise of crowds. When I heard that on Grushevsky Street explosions were causing people to lose their arms, legs, and eyes, I understood that I should be there, so that I would not later be ashamed of myself. For some reason I remembered the example of a priest in Georgia, who ran out with a bench in his hands to route the gay parade. That man saw lawlessness in the streets and did not try to hide or wait it out in the church, but went out to make his position clear to the laity, and to inspire them by his example.

LG: As far as I understand it, you had agreed upon a plan?

Fr. M: No, we had no sort of plan. Early in the morning, Fr. Ephraim, Fr. Gabriel, and I prayed together, and after asking a blessing, we went out to the Maidan. None of us had even the slightest wavering or doubt. There was no plan. There was a goal—to do at least something to stop the violence.

LG: How did the demonstrators react to the appearance of men in vestments?

Fr. M: We were realistic about the fact that it is no longer possible to stop the police or demonstrators, and therefore we were ready to stand under the flying bullets and stones. But when people saw priests in front of them, standing between them and the police cordon, it was as if they had been dashed with boiling water. They calmed down almost immediately. A moment of something like a blessed reasonableness came over them.

Fr. G: The people standing there came up to us and said, “As long as you stand here, we will not throw any stones at the police.” This really inspired us all. We were able to restrain people until nightfall—only then did Molotov cocktails start flying at the police. But even in that moment, many of the demonstrators ran over to the police cordon and shouted to their comrades to cease their aggression. Some of these young fellows even climbed onto the roof of a burnt-out bus in order to pull out the protesters, thus placing themselves in the path of danger.

LG: Did you understand that you were risking your lives? After all, Molotov cocktails and grenades were blowing up around you.

Fr. G: When we were standing between the crowd of protesters and the police behind their shields, and all around us grenades were popping and cocktails were ripping, a hot bottle landed about five meters from me. But it did not explode… Fire was burning all around us, bottles were crashing and machinery was rumbling, but for some reason this cocktail did not explode. It would have scorched me and everyone around me in a moment, but it only hit the ground and fizzled out. Then I felt that the Lord was protecting us.

Later, however, people started using us as human shields—demonstrators walked up to us and threw stones and bottles with flammable mixtures from behind our backs. At that moment I felt a terrible bitterness for these people, whom we were calling to make peace, but who were nevertheless thirsting for blood. I felt that demons were mocking these human souls, inciting them to rage, and dulling their good sense.

LG: At what moment did you understand that it was time for you to leave the demonstration site?

Fr. M: We were not alone there—there were lay people standing next to us, both men and women. We were watching attentively, so that no one would throw stones and bottles at them—after all, we essentially bore responsibility for them at that moment. Therefore, when the situation came to a head, we decided to step back in order to guard those who stood with us shoulder-to-shoulder.

Some have spoken of provocations and aggression from the crowd, others, about the cruelty and brutality of the police. I cannot say anything of the kind. We did not want to find the guilty party; we wanted to make peace between both sides.
LG: Some are inclined to emphasize the cruelty of the police, while others blame the demonstrators for everything. What is your opinion, as eye-witnesses?

Fr. G: At the moment the passions were escalating, a man ran from out of the crowd. Disregarding the cold, he was bare to the waist. The man shouted to the crowd and the police to stop, and then fell to his knees and began to pray fervently. But the police jumped at him, took him by the feet and dragged him to the cars. I tried to stop them, but in vain. I was sincerely sorry for that man—it seemed to me that God’s grace was visiting him at that moment.

It is not right to bet in this situation on one side or the other. We saw cruelty from both camps—each of them was sick in their own way.

LG: At that moment, people of all different religious confessions were gathered in the center of town. Did you have any confrontations with them?

Fr. M: During those hours that we spent at the Maidan, people from all different confessions came there: Greek-Catholics, clergy from the “Kiev Patriarchate” and the Catholic Church; and what is the most amazing of all—Buddhists!

Fr. G: Even a Jew came up to me in his kippah, and standing next to me, started praying. I listened to him amazed: he was praying Orthodox prayers with us!

Fr. M: To me a young man came up, introduced himself as Seryezha, and asked me whether we accept heretics. “Heretics in what sense?” I asked. “I am a Baptist,” Seryezha smiled. “Of course we accept them. Come on over!”
This place was the borderline of peace, and there could be no talk of “acceptance” or “non-acceptance.”

LG: That is, the common woe united all those who can’t find a common language during peaceful times?

Fr. G: There was no division between confessions or ideology. This was not the time for that. When a mother sees a tree falling over the sandbox, she won’t only grab her own child—she’ll pick up someone else’s as well, be he the neighbor’s or a street kid. At that moment, we were all related.

And do you know what is most amazing? People started calling us from Kiev and other cities—both lay people and clergy—saying that they wanted to stand with us shoulder-to-shoulder when we go out there again. Literally just a few days ago, a man who had been standing in the barricades at that moment came to our church, and said that he no longer wants to stand there, now he wants to pray.

Many protesters who saw us there said the same thing. They had thought that a stone is the weightiest thing there could possibly be. But when they saw us, they recognized that compared to certain spiritual things, a stone is lighter than a feather.

LG: You risked your lives, standing there in those minutes. Tell us, did you remember the New Martyrs then, and were you inspired by their example?

Fr. G: Do you know, when we went to the Maidan, I began to pray silently. And among all the other saints whom I was asking for help, some of the first who came to mind were the Georgian martyrs Shalva, Bidzina, and Elisbara. These were three princes who stirred an uprising in Georgia against the Islamic oppression. Having gathered two thousand warriors under their banners, they defeated the army of the Persian shah, which numbered 10,000 strong. But when hundreds of women and children were taken captive by the shah, the princes surrendered without a second thought. The captives were released, but the princes were executed. Their martyrdom consisted in their living and fighting for the people’s sake, and they were ready to die in order to save innocent lives.

I also recalled the example of one Russian commander who fought in Chechnya—his name was kept secret, but the mujahedin announced a price on his head. When the Chechens took several peaceful citizens captive, he unhesitatingly gave himself up in exchange for the captives’ freedom. He was brutally murdered, but the captives survived.
Who are the New Martyrs? What can we call the feeling that guides them? I would call it “ordinary patriotism.” IC

St. Silouan: On the Love of Enemies

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Silouan

by Jean-Claude Larchet

ALTHOUGH IT IS natural and usual to love those who love us and to do good to those who do good to us (Mat.t 5:46-47; Luke 6:32-33), to love our enemies is distasteful to our nature. One can say that it isn’t in our power but is an attitude that can only be the fruit of grace, given by the Holy Spirit. This is why St. Silouan the Athonite writes, “The soul that has not known the Holy Spirit does not understand how one can love one’s enemies, and does not accept it.”

The starets repeatedly says that love of enemies is impossible without grace. “Lord, You have given the commandment to love enemies, but this is difficult for us sinners if Your grace is not with us…. Without God’s grace we cannot love our enemies…. He who has not learned to love from the Holy Spirit, will certainly not pray for his enemies.” On the contrary, St. Silouan always taught that this attitude is a gift of the Holy Spirit: “The Lord has commanded us to love our enemies, and the Holy Spirit reveals this love to us…. When you will love your enemies, know that a great divine grace will be living in you.”

This grace does not suddenly erupt in the soul, but rather shows itself in a divine pedagogy, where taking into account the weakness and the difficulties of man, the Holy Spirit progressively teaches him to love and teaches him all the attitudes and ways which will al-low him to do so. “The Holy Spirit teaches us to love even our enemies…. The Holy Spirit teach-es the soul a profound love for man and compassion for the lost. The Lord had pity for those who were lost…. The Holy Spirit teach-es this same compassion for those who go to hell…. I could not speak about it if the Holy Spirit had not taught me this love…. The Lord taught me love of enemies.”

The grace of the Holy Spirit shows to him who possesses it the way to love his enemies. But it also reveals to him the foundation of this love: the love of God for all people and His will to save them. “No man can know by himself what divine love is if the Holy Spirit does not instruct him; but in our Church divine love is known through the Holy Spirit, and that is why we speak about it.” Grace also “gives man the capacity and the strength to love his enemies, and the Spirit of God gives us the strength to love them.”

Starets Silouan insisted that because love of enemies is a fruit of grace, it is essentially only through prayer that it can be obtained. Several times he urges us to “ask the Lord with our whole being to give us the strength to love all men.” He also advised to pray to the Mother of God and the Saints. “If we are incapable [of loving our enemies] and if we are without love, let us turn with ardent prayers to the Lord, to His Most Pure Mother, and to all the Saints, and the Lord will help us with everything, He whose love for us knows no bounds.” The starets confessed that he himself constantly prayed to God for this. “I continuously beg the Lord to give me the love of enemies…. Day and night I ask the Lord for this love.” Wishing in his universal love for all men to receive such a gift, he links them to himself in his prayer. “Lord, teach us through Your Holy Spirit to love our enemies and to pray for them with tears…. Lord, as you prayed for your enemies, so teach us also, through the Holy Spirit, to love our enemies.”

Yet obtaining the grace to love one’s enemies presupposes other conditions.

The love of enemies is completely bound to the love of God. We have seen that the principal foundation for the love of enemies is the love that God shows to all His creatures equally and His will that all people should be saved. Christ gave us a perfect example of such love throughout his earthly life. The love of God leads man to accomplish His will and to imitate Him as much as possible, and so also to love his enemies. The starets thus noted that he who does not love his enemies shows that he has not learned from the Holy Spirit to love God.

To love one’s enemies is also tightly bound to humility. The starets often associated these two virtues, pointing out that almost all the difficulties we encounter in loving our enemies are linked with pride, from which flows the afflictions that follow upon insults: hatred, bad temper, spite, the desire for revenge, contempt for one’s neighbor, and the refusal to forgive and to be reconciled.

But even while pride excludes the love of enemies, love excludes pride. “If we love our enemies, pride will have no place in our soul.” Further, it is the link between humility and love of enemies that proves the presence of grace and the authenticity of love. “If you have compassion for all creatures and love your enemies, and if at the same time you judge yourself the worst of all people, this shows that the great grace of the Lord is in you.”

Indeed humility is the indispensable condition to receive and keep the grace that teaches us to love our enemies and gives us the strength to do so. The starets advises us, if you “humiliate yourself, then grace will teach you.” On the other hand, “pride makes us lose grace…. The soul is then tormented by bad thoughts and does not understand that one must humiliate oneself and love one’s enemies, for without that, one cannot please God.”

The starets sometimes also stressed the role played by peni-tence in connection with humility. “Regard yourself the worst of men,” he advises. Doing so mani-fests an attitude of great humility, which by its nature implies peni-tence. He who counts himself the worst of men necessarily thinks others better than himself and will judge and blame himself without the need to judge and criticize his enemies, for he tends to estimate them better than himself.

St. Silouan also exemplified another aspect of a penitential attitude, that of asking God’s for-giveness each time one has not loved one’s enemy. “If I judge someone or look at him angrily, my tears dry up and I fall into despondency and again I start asking the Lord to forgive me, and the merciful Lord forgives me, a sinner…. Through such an attitude, by which the soul humbly recognizes before God its faults and shortcomings and obtains from Him forgiveness, an opening can be made that becomes bigger and bigger for grace and unceasing progress in love. As to a total absence of compassion for enemies, it shows the presence and the action of an evil spirit; sincere repentance is the only way to be freed from it.”

This insistence on prayer, humility, and penitence shows that, although St. Silouan recognized the determining role the action of grace plays in acquiring love of enemies, he did not neglect the role played by the efforts we must make. The starets was very conscious of the importance of our initiating action. “I beg you, try,” he states, “In the beginning, force your heart to love your enemies.” The efforts one makes must manifest themselves generally with focused intention and constant good will, stretched toward the realization of God’s command. God will not fail to respond to such effort.

For the person who feels discouraged by such a demanding task, St. Silouan reassures him. “Seeing your good intention, the Lord will help you in everything.” The starets who felt in himself so acutely human powerlessness and weakness seemed to think constantly of these words of the Apostle: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13) and witnesses in his own experience the mighty help that everyone can receive from God.

LOVE IS AN interior disposition that cannot be described adequately, but one can specify conditions and manifestations. In this way it is possible, by close attention to the wisdom of the Fathers, to define different steps in the love of enemies, from the most elementary to the highest. What follows is such a list of twenty-six steps that serves to summarize St. Silouan’s teaching on the love of enemies. This classification in steps does not of course pretend to establish a rigorous hierarchy. Some attitudes can be considered as being on different levels but each attitude more or less implies the others. Thus love, particularly this most difficult of all loves, may be analyzed in parts but in the end is a disposition that exists as a whole and is indivisible.

The first step, says St. John Chrysostom, is not to be the first to cause harm.

The second step is not to take revenge in the measure one has suffered.

While the two first degrees do not seem to concern the love of enemies, they are its preconditions. The tendency to attack one’s enemies or to take revenge is instinctive and spontaneous, and receives its approbation from the Old Testament law of retaliation when taken in its most literal meaning.

The third step is not to take revenge at all, but to leave that to God, as the Apostle Paul said: “Recompense to no man evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17); “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). St. Isaac the Syrian gives the same advice: “Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute. Let yourself be crucified, but do not crucify. Let yourself be insulted, but do not insult.”

The fourth step is not to resist. This attitude was advised by Christ: “But I say unto you that you resist no evil” (Matt. 5:39).

The fifth step is not to be irritated by what our enemies do to us (St. Maximus the Confessor, Centuries on Charity 1:38, 2:49), but to bear, to show patience, to endure all we are made to suffer, following the example and exhortation of the Apostle: “Being persecuted, we suffer it” (1 Cor. 4:12), and “For ye suffer if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face” (2 Cor. 11:20).

The sixth step is not to get inwardly upset about insults, abuse, trials and affliction that our enemies make us suffer, or as St. Simeon the New Theologian puts it: “not to turn a hair during trials and to have an equable and uniform attitude towards those who abuse one face-to-face, who accuse, persecute, condemn, insult, spit, or even to those who make a show of friendship and behind one’s back act in the same way that they can’t completely hide.” We must add that this can happen on different planes, as this attitude also has different steps. On the lowest step it can be allied to contempt, and so be the opposite to love; one step higher it can be allied to indifference, and so still not be in accordance with love; on a higher plane it can show that one has attained impassibility, and higher still, be allied to true charity.

The seventh step is to consider offenses as a gift, to rejoice about them, and to thank God for them. He who has reached this step understands the meaning of these words of Christ: “Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matt. 5:11). The Fathers advise us to consider the person who offends us as a physician providentially come to cure our souls of its diseases, particularly pride and vainglory. They emphasize the profit one can gain from what one is made to suffer. St. Zosima said, “If someone remembers a brother who has hurt, injured, or insulted him, he must regard him as a doctor and benefactor sent by Christ. If you get upset in these circumstances, it means your soul is sick. Indeed, if you were not sick, you would not suffer. So give thanks to this brother, for through him you know your illness. Pray for him and receive what comes from him as medicine sent to you by the Lord.” St. John of Gaza writes, “If we are just, the trial sent us [by our enemies] is for our progress, and if we are unjust, it is for the remission of sins and our improvement; it is also an exercise and a lesson in endurance.”

The eighth step is to offer yourself voluntarily to suffer offenses. This attitude is advised by Christ and recorded for us in the Gospel. “Whosoever shall strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39).

The ninth step is to want to suffer more than one is asked to endure.

The tenth step is to feel no hate for those who ill treat us.

The eleventh step is to feel no rancor, wrath, or re-sentment towards our ene-mies. St. John Climacus wrote, “Charity is first of all to reject every thought of enmity, because charity thinks no ill” (1 Cor. 13:5).

The twelfth step is not to accuse our enemies, not to criticize them, not to speak ill of them, not even to reveal the harm they have done to us.

The thirteenth step is not to despise them.

The fourteenth step is to feel no trace of aversion or repulsion towards them.

The fifteenth step is not to feel the slightest bitterness towards them or to the memory of what they have done to us nor the slightest sadness.

The sixteenth step is not to judge them at all and only to consider one’s own faults. This in answer to Christ’s teaching to “Judge not, that ye be not judged…. [and] Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye” (Matt. 7:1-3)?

The seventeenth step is to sincerely forgive them. This attitude makes us worthy to petition God for the forgiveness of our own faults as the Lord taught us, asking “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12), and shows that we take seriously the words of Christ that “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). This forgiveness in its highest form does not even remember what one has suffered. St. Simeon the New Theologian notes that in this degree, love of enemies consists in “covering with total oblivion what one has suffered” so that we “think of nothing that has happened, whether the persecutors are present or absent.”

Still these seventeen first steps don’t take us into what is love proper although they form indispensable conditions and preparatory stages one must pass. Love is not simply the absence of enmity but rather is superior to it. In this respect St. Maximus the Confessor writes, “To feel no envy, no wrath, no bitterness towards the offender does not yet mean to have love for him.” One can, without any love, avoid rendering evil for evil because of the commandment. Not to hate someone does not yet mean to love him. One can feel for him something between the two that is neither love nor hate. It is the following steps that will bring us to real love.

The eighteenth step is to strive to be reconciled with one’s enemies as ordained by Christ: “First be reconciled with thy brother” (Matt. 5:24), “Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him” (Matt. 5:25). By this attitude we show a desire for union that is the foundation of love, contrary to which is the tendency toward division and separation.

The nineteenth step is to feel pity and compassion for them. This attitude is in answer to Christ’s counsel, given in the context of His teaching on the love of enemies. “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36). This is how St. Isaac the Syrian describes him who has real compassion for all beings in creation, and so also for his enemies: “When he thinks of them, and when he sees them, tears run from his eyes. So strong and so violent is his compassion, and so great is his constancy that it wrings his heart and he can’t bear to hear or to see the least harm or the slightest sadness in creation.”

The twentieth step implies renouncing being avenged by God but also wishing that He will not punish our enemies. The Apostle’s instruction––“Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19)—seems to have been given to beginners hardly able to give up their own revenge. This twentieth step consists positively in wanting God to forgive our enemies, to keep and save them.

The twenty-first step is to pray to God for them. This attitude is in answer to Christ’s command to “pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:28). It is evident so far that praying for enemies is implied, but to this point, it has been a means of avoiding and being purified from undesirable attitudes like hate, spite, resentment, and pride. In the higher stages, prayer is no longer for oneself but for the other: it leads to compassion and to love for the enemy and permits positive attitudes to develop and strengthen. It consists in asking God to take pity on him, forgive him his sins, save him, and give him what is best. A sorrowful heart and tears are the sign that the prayer is deep, sincere, and motivated by real compassion. St. Isaac the Syrian writes “He who is compassionate prays tearfully, at all hours, for the animals without reason, for the enemies of truth, and for all who harm him, so that they be kept and forgiven.” “He who loves his enemies,” says St. Maximus, “will even suffer for them if the chance is given to him.”

The twenty-second step is to have affection for them. St. Simeon notes that at this level love consists in “loving them from the bottom of the soul, and more still in engraving in oneself the face of each one of them, to kiss them impassibly as true friends with tears of sincere charity.”

The twenty-third step, then, is to begin to wish and do them good. This attitude is in answer to the commandments of Christ to “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you” (Matt. 5:44; cf Luke 6:27-28), to “love you your enemies and do good” (Luke 6:35), and “as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). These commandments the Apostle repeats, saying, “Bless them which persecute you, bless and curse not” (Rom. 12:14), “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Rom. 12:17), and “Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink” (Rom. 12:20). In their behavior, the Apostles show the attitude “being reviled, we bless” (1 Cor. 4:12).

When a man who was being ill-treated asked him how to act, St. John of Gaza had only one answer: “Do good to him.” St. Isaac advises to “Show the greatness of your compassion by rendering good to those who were unjust to you,” and he writes that “it is a great thing to do good to sinners more than to the just.” St. Maximus teaches that one only really loves when one is able to “return naturally good for evil” and that “to be capable of doing good to those who hate us is only given to perfect spiritual love.” Love, then, does not only consist of doing good to our enemies, but also in thinking well of them.

The twenty-fourth step is to consider those who harm us in the same way as those who do us good and to love them in the same way. St. Barsanuphios teaches that one must manage “to consider he who strikes as he who caresses, he who despises as he who esteems, he who insults as he who honors, he who afflicts as he who consoles.” More than all the Fathers, St. Maximus advises us to treat all men equally and to love them all without making any difference, friends or enemies, just or sinners. He wrote, “Blessed the man who can love all men equally…. He who is good and impassive, by the disposition of his will, loves equally all men, the just for their nature and their good disposition, the sinners for their nature and with the compassionate pity one has for a fool wandering in the night.” He adds that “perfect love loves all men equally. He loves the virtuous as friends, and the depraved as enemies…. If you detest some people and feel for others neither love nor hate, if you love these but moderately and those very much, know by this inequality that you are still far from perfect, as [perfect love] loves all men equally.” Indeed “the friends of Christ truly love all beings.” St. Isaac the Syrian gives the same teaching: “Consider all men, whether unbelievers or murderers, as equal in good and honor, and that each one by his nature is your brother, even if without knowing it he has wandered from the truth…. Compassion,” he says “is a sadness born from grace; it feels for all beings with the same affection…. He who loves all beings equally, with compassion and discernment, has reached perfection.”

The twenty-fifth step is to treat our enemies in the same way as our friends. “He who really loves his enemies,” writes St. Simeon, is capable of “receiving them too as friends at meeting for meals, without at all returning to the past.” St. John Chrysostom says the same: “We act towards them who have harmed us as towards real friends, and love them as ourselves.”

The twenty-sixth step is to love our enemies not only as ourselves, but more than ourselves. Charity, says St. Maximus, “leads harmoniously to this praiseworthy inequality through which each prefers his neighbor to himself, as much as in the past he wanted to push him to the side and put himself forward.” In the Apophthegmata, we read that the monks of Sketes in the desert west of the Nile Delta sought to love their enemies even more than themselves.

Again, the enumeration of these steps does not estab-lish a formulaic method or lay out a strict progression one must follow in a precise order, but instead they lay out a mosaic comprised of the many lessons St. Silouan learned in his own life. Our classification is mainly peda-gogical; it tries to help us understand that the love of enemies has many compo-nents, that its acquisition is the result of numerous de-mands and is only possible after a gradual and coordinated interior effort. It also wishes to stress that there are different levels of quality and of intensity that some, who haven’t fought long to reach them, will barely understand.

But, if one examines the teaching of St. Silouan on the love of enemies, one notices that while he is not unaware of the elementary steps, he mostly considers the higher levels. This confirms what we have already said, that the teaching of the starets is the expression of a personal experience at the highest level of spiritual life.

For the person as yet unable to love his enemies, St. Silouan teaches that at least he must not hate them, curse them, or snub them, and must refuse thoughts of anger against them. In that way at least progress is made towards love.

The love of enemies implies that one not only must bear the afflictions that they make us suffer, but also that one suffers them with joy for God’s sake. It also implies correlatively that one thanks God for all these afflictions. As we have seen, they contribute to our spiritual progress and for this reason must be received as a providential gift of God for our salvation.

The love of enemies also implies that, face-to-face with the violence one suffers, one should maintain peace of soul and body. In other words, not only must one not show irritation in return, but one must not even become agitated. Starets Silouan also recommends that in learning to not accuse his enemies, one must not think badly about them or even judge them at all. Rather than accuse others, we must feel guilty ourselves.

For the starets, the love of enemies supposes that one forgives them their offenses and prays for them. But forgiving is not yet loving; prayer can precede love and not yet be a manifestation of it. “When I was still in the world, I liked to forgive with all my heart,” he said. “I forgave easily and I liked to pray for those who had offended me, but when I came to the monastery, while I was still a novice, I received a great grace and it taught me to love my enemies.”

St. Silouan sees compassion as one of the principal dimensions of the love of enemies. Such compassion consists first of all in feeling pity for them. This pity is partly a result of being conscious that those who harm us or want to do so have a sick soul and act under a demonic influence. In this condition, they suffer profoundly. To the question, “How can a subordinate keep a peaceful soul if his superior is a violent and bad man?” the starets answers, “An irascible man endures great suffering caused by a bad spirit. He suffers torment because of his pride. The subordinate must know this and pray for the sick soul of his superior.”

On the other hand, this pity results from the knowledge that he who causes harm and is opposed to the truth or doesn’t know it, lives aloof from God, deprives himself of His gifts, wanders far from the way to salvation, and is heading for the plains of hell, the beginning of which he already suffers here on earth. “The soul has compassion for enemies and prays for them because they have wandered away from the truth and are going to hell…. A good man thinks, ‘each man who has wandered far from the truth is going to his fall,’ and this is why he feels pity for him…. He who has been taught by the Holy Spirit to love will suffer all his life for those who don’t save themselves. Many tears run down his cheeks for mankind, and the divine grace gives him strength to love his enemies…. They are to be pitied who don’t know God and are opposed to Him––my heart suffers for them and tears run down my cheeks. We can clearly see both Paradise and the torments––we know this through the Holy Spirit, and the Lord Himself said, “the Kingdom of God is in you” (Luke 17:21). So eternal life already starts here on earth, and the eternal torments too start here.”

We see here that pity is accompanied by compassion, that it consists in suffering what others are suffering as if one felt it oneself, in showing true solidarity with them in their suffering, in putting oneself in their place in their troubles. Such is an authentic and unlimited love. The starets gives us an example of his own compassion that is deeply lived, is accompanied by pain and tears, and is permanent. It is as deep as what one feels for one’s loved ones when they are in pain or trouble. “The Lord teaches us to love enemies in such a way that we will feel compassion for them as for our own children.” We must, says the starets, be compassionate not only for our own enemies and the enemies of truth, but for the demons who suffer infernal pains for turning away from God and denying Him in their voluntary deprivation of heavenly goods, their refusal to love God and to be loved by Him. “Taught by the Holy Spirit, one will feel com-passion even for demons, for they are separated from goodness, they have lost humility and God’s love.”

For the starets, compassion for enemies is linked to the compassion one must have for all creatures without exception: “One must feel compassion for every person, every creature and all of God’s creation.”

“The Spirit of God teaches us to love all that exists, and the soul feels compassion for each being, and also loves enemies and pities demons, because in their fall they were detached from the good.” Compassion makes no exceptions. “There are people who wish damnation and the torments in the fire of hell for their enemies or enemies of the Church. They think in this way because they haven’t learned from the Holy Spirit to love God. He who has learned love weeps for the whole world! You say, ‘Let him burn in the fire of hell!’ But I ask you, ‘If God gave you a good place in Paradise and that from there you could see in the fire the man to whom you wished this torment, wouldn’t you feel pity for him, whoever he is, even if he is an enemy to the Church?’ Or do you have a heart of metal?”

The starets felt so much pity and compassion for those who have to endure the sufferings of hell because he had himself experienced the beatitude of Paradise and the dreadful wretchedness of hell, and he knew the painful distance that separated both. For him, the love of enemies implies wishing and doing good to them. He who loves his enemies wants what is best for them—that they should repent, know God, and obtain the grace of salvation. “We must only have one thought,” says St. Silouan “that all be saved.”

Another factor of the love of enemies on which St. Silouan insists is prayer. “It is a great work in God’s eyes to pray for those who offend us and who make us suffer.” For the starets, prayer for and love of enemies are intimately connected. “The Lord has given on earth the Holy Spirit who teaches the soul to love our enemies and to pray for them…. Lord, teach us through your Holy Spirit to love our enemies and to pray for them with tears…. Lord, as You prayed for your enemies, teach us also, through the Holy Spirit, to love our enemies…. The soul that has been taught to pray by the grace of God loves with compassion all creatures, and especially man.”

Prayer indeed awakens in us love for our enemies, and at the same time results from love and is a witness to it. Prayer not only awakens the love of enemies, the love of enemies awakens prayer.

Praying for enemies first permits one to obtain from God the grace to love them. “One can only love one’s enemies through the grace of the Holy Spirit. That’s why, as soon as someone has hurt you, pray to God for him…. To have a peaceful soul, one must get used to loving him who has offended us and to pray immediately for him. The soul cannot have peace if it doesn’t with all its strength ask the Lord for the gift of loving all men.” But prayer is also what permits us to retain the grace of loving enemies once it has been obtained. “The man who hasn’t been taught by the Holy Spirit to love will certainly not pray for his enemies.” The pity and compassion that one feels for enemies, conscious that they have wandered away from God, are deprived of divine goods and are heading for their ruin, lead one to pray for their escape from the ills they will have to suffer. They also lead one to pray to God for them to repent and turn away from their bad ways, for them to know him and be saved. “The Lord has given on earth the Holy Spirit who teaches the soul to love enemies and pray for them so that they will be saved. That is love…. The man who carries in him the Holy Spirit has a heart full of compassion for all of God’s creatures and especially for the people who don’t know God or are opposed to Him and who for this reason will go into the tormenting fire. He prays day and night––more than for himself––for them all to repent and know the Lord…. ‘Lord, all peoples are the work of Your hands; turn them away from hate and wickedness to repentance so that they all may know Your love.’” IC

Jean-Claude Larchet is professor of philosophy and a specialist in Patristics living in France. This is a section of a longer essay published in Buisson Ardent by the Association Saint-Silouane l’Athonite in the society’s journal (Maxime Egger, secretary, Le Sel de la Terre, 79 avenue C-F Ramuz, CH-1009 Pully, Switzerland). The translation was made by Mother Lydia of the Orthodox Cloister of St. John the Forerunner in The Hague.

Toward a Theology of Just Peace

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

just peace cover

Outcome Document of the International Orthodox Consultation at Saidnaya, Syria, October 22, 2010

THE ORTHODOX CHURCH understands peace and peacemaking as indispensable aspects of her faith and mission to the world. Peace is both a quality of a person enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and the gift of God to families, communities, and nations. Peace in Scripture, patristic tradition, and liturgy is a greeting and a dynamic grace-giving reality (Jn. 20:19-21). God Himself is peace (Jdg. 6:24) and peace is his gift. Peace is a sign of communion with God (Ps. 85: 8-13). It grants freedom from fear and threat from enemies; it is inseparable from righteousness, without which there is no real peace. In short “peace” is intrinsic to salvation (Rom. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:23). Peace is communion with God and Jesus Christ is our peace, since he is the bond of communion (Eph. 2:14-17): “We live in peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). St. Basil the Great calls Christians a peaceable race since “nothing is more characteristic of a Christian than to be a worker for peace.”

1. The mission of the Church is to live in and preserve God’s peace and, despite human failures, to communicate prophetically the peace of God to the world as a blessed peacemaker. The calling of communicating the peace of God to the world in situations of conflict, violence, injustice, and oppression invites the Church to strengthen its contribution to ongoing efforts for transformation of persons and society at different levels toward greater justice, peace, and communion. The peacemaking mission of the Church is inherent to its ongoing commitment and active work toward the unity of all who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. In today’s global world, the Church in collaboration with others should take proactive steps to prevent violence by addressing its root causes through all appropriate means that promote justice and peace. Christians are involved in a permanent process of becoming more conscious of their responsibility to incarnate the message of peace and justice in the world as a witness of the authenticity of their faith. This is clearly stated by St. Basil: “Christ is our peace,” and hence “he who seeks peace seeks Christ…. Without love for others, without an attitude of peace towards all men, no one can be called a true servant of Christ.” Peacemaking is an art that can be exercised at personal, institutional, and global levels. At the institutional level, the Church mediates between the person and the state to the extent possible in given situations. At the global level, the Church’s witness may inspire policymakers.

2. The Orthodox Church has an unshakeable belief in the unity of humankind and affirms the intrinsic dignity of all human beings because all partake in God’s love (Gen. 2:7; Wis. of Sol. 10:1; Acts 17: 26) and are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Fundamental rights of the human being, such as the right to life and freedom of conscience, are at the heart of the gospel and essential in the practice of the Church. This is a contributing factor to her involvement in the life of the world, promoting justice and peace for all.

3. The Orthodox Church also firmly believes that all forms of life and natural resources are essential parts of God’s creation and, therefore, partake in the blessedness and goodness of God (Ps. 8). They must be treated with awe, care, and respect. Peace among the peoples of the earth and peace with the earth are interconnected. Therefore, it follows that it is inappropriate for us and disrespectful to the creator to use them as mere objects of greed and selfishness.

4. The peaceable vocation of the Orthodox Church should be carried on in collaboration and joint projects with other Christian Churches and faith com-munities. This is what the Third Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conference recom-mended in 1986. “The local Orthodox churches in close collaboration with the peace-loving faithful of other world religions consider it their duty to work for peace on earth and the establishment of fraternal relations between peoples. The Orthodox Churches are called upon to contribute to joint effort and collaboration between religions, and thereby combat fanaticism everywhere; in this way, they work for reconciliation between peoples, the triumph of the values represented by freedom and peace in the world, service to humanity today regardless of race or religion.” Through such collaboration, the Orthodox churches contribute their gifts and efforts to the ongoing process for peace and justice, even as they learn from the experiences and the insights of others.

5. In the ambivalence of conflicts and violence in the present world, the Church lives out a solid biblical and patristic theology of peace. She must also analyze and understand the nature and causes of conflict by taking into consideration the insights of peace practition-ers and social scientists. She concretizes the message of peace through conversation with those who are knowledgeable about currently emerging trends of the world, such as general principles of international law on the subject of peace and peacemaking.

6. Peace and justice are inextricably related (Is 32:17; James 3:18). The Orthodox Church understands justice to be restorative and distributive in nature (Rom. 3:25-26). By rewarding the good and disciplining the wrong, a peacemaker ought to be proactive in strengthening good will and forwarding the spirit of reconciliation to prevent evil consequences, just as God with his compassion and forbearance reconciled us and made us righteous through the “blood of Christ” (Rom 3:25-26, 5:9, Eph 1:7), thus proving his irreproachable justice. Justice should promote a sense of community and fairness, and sometimes requires just compromises. In St. Basil the Great’s words, which equally apply to the relation of communities and peoples, those who could give to the poor but did not were guilty of injustice and should restore excess goods to their rightful owners. “The bread you are holding back is for the hungry, the clothes you keep put away are for the naked, the shoes that are rotting away with disuse are for those who have none, the silver you keep buried in the earth is for the needy. You are thus guilty of injustice toward as many as you might have aided, and did not.”

7. When Christians fail to witness to justice, they fall short of their mission. In addressing situations of injustice, the Church appeals to moral conscience and the spiritual implications of abusing the weak. In some instances, the Church may make this witness by refraining from supporting abusive authorities. The Church is called to console and stand by the poor and the weak (Matt. 25). In facing the global crises of today, the Orthodox Church exhorts a greater sensitivity by policymakers for the poor and the environment because they suffer the most. She encourages creative policies that work toward preservation of the environment and just distribution of wealth. This implies a careful management of the Church’s own resources. IC

Confession: A Primer

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Parable-of-the-Prodigal-Son

by Jim Forest

A young monk said to the great ascetic Abba Sisoes: “Abba, what should I do? I fell.” The elder answered: “Get up!” The monk said: “I got up and I fell again!” The elder replied: “Get up again!” But the young monk asked: “For how long should I get up when I fall?” “Until your death,” answered Abba Sisoes.
—Sayings of the Desert Fathers

WHEN I WENT to my first confession,” a friend told me, “tears took the place of the sins I meant to utter. The priest simply told me that it wasn’t necessary to enumerate everything and that it was just vanity to suppose that my personal sins were worse than everyone else’s. Which, by the way, was a bit of a relief, since it wasn’t possible for me to remember all the sins of my first thirty-odd years of life. It made me think of when the father received his prodigal son––he didn’t let his son finish his carefully rehearsed speech. Truly amazing.”

Another friend told me that he was so worried about all he had to confess that he decided to write them down. “So I made a list of my sins and brought it with me. The priest saw the paper in my hand, took it, looked through the list, tore it up, and gave it back to me. Then he said ‘Kneel down,’ and he absolved me. That was my confession, even though I never said a word! But I felt truly my sins had been torn up and that I was free of them.

The very word confession makes us nervous, touching as it does all that is hidden in ourselves: lies told, injuries caused, things stolen, friends deceived, people betrayed, promises broken, faith denied––these plus all the smaller actions that reveal the beginnings of sins.

Confession is painful, yet a Christian life without confession is impossible.

Confession is a major theme of the Gospels. Even before Christ began His public ministry, we read in Matthew’s Gospel that John required confession of those who came to him for baptism in the river for a symbolic act of washing away their sins: “And [they] were baptized by [John] in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6).

Then there are those amazing words of Christ to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The keys of binding and loosing sins were given not only to one apostle but to all Christ’s disciples, and—in a sacramental sense—to any priest who has his bishop’s blessing to hear confessions.

The Gospel author John warns us not to deceive ourselves: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:8, 9).

The sacrament of baptism, the rite of entrance into the Church, has always been linked with repentance. “Repent, and…be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” Saint Peter preached in Jerusalem, “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In the same book we read that “many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds” (Acts 19:18).

One Gospel story in which we encounter confession is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Here Christ describes a young man so impatient to come into his inheritance and be independent that, in effect, he says to his father, “As far as I’m concerned, you are already dead. Give me now what would have come to me after your funeral. I want nothing more to do with you or with this house.”

With Godlike generosity, the father gives what his son asks, though he knows his son well enough to realize that all the boy receives from him might as well be burned in a stove. The boy takes his inheritance and leaves, at last free of parents, free of morals and good behavior, free to do as he pleases.

After wasting his money, he finds himself reduced to feeding the pigs as a farmhand. People he had thought of as friends now sneer. He knows he has renounced the claim to be anyone’s son, yet in his desperation he dares hope his father might at least allow him to return home as a servant. Full of dismay for what he said to his father and he did with his inheritance, he walks home in his rags, ready to confess his sins, to beg for work and a corner to sleep in. The son cannot imagine the love his father has for him or the fact that, despite all the trouble he caused, he has been desperately missed. Far from being glad to be rid of the boy, the father has gazed day after day in prayer toward the horizon in hope of his son’s return.

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (v. 20). Had he not been watching, he would not have noticed his child in the distance and realized who it was. Instead of simply standing and waiting for his son to reach the door, he ran to meet him, embracing him, pouring out words of joy and welcome rather than reproof or condemnation.

“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight and am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (v. 21). Here we have the son’s confession compacted into a single sentence. It is the essence of any confession: our return to our Father, who made us and constantly awaits our homecoming.

WHAT IS SIN? There are countless essays and books that deal with human failings under various labels without once using the three-letter word sin. Actions traditionally regarded as sinful have instead been seen as natural stages in the process of growing up, a result of bad parenting, a consequence of mental illness, an inevitable response to unjust social conditions, or pathological behavior brought on by addiction.

But what if I am more than a robot programmed by my past or my society or my economic status and actually can take a certain amount of credit––or blame––for my actions and inactions? Have I not done things I am deeply ashamed of, would not do again if I could go back in time, and would prefer no one to know about? What makes me so reluctant to call those actions “sins”? Is the word really out of date? Or is the problem that it has too sharp an edge?

The Hebrew verb chata’, “to sin,” like the Greek word hamartia, simply means straying off the path, getting lost, missing the mark. Sin––going off course––can be intentional or unintentional.

The author of the Book of Proverbs lists seven things God hates: “A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (6:17–19).

Pride is given first place. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” is another insight in the Book of Proverbs (16:18). In the Garden of Eden, Satan seeks to animate pride in his dialogue with Eve. Eat the forbidden fruit, he tells her, and “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5).

The craving to be ahead of others, to be more valued than others, to be more highly rewarded than others, to be able to keep others in a state of fear, the inability to admit mistakes or apologize––these are among the symptoms of pride. Pride opens the way for countless other sins: deceit, lies, theft, violence, and all those other actions that destroy community with God and with those around us.

Yet we spend a great deal of our lives trying to convince ourselves and others that what we did really wasn’t that bad or could even be seen as almost good, given the circumstances. Even in confession, many people explain rather than simply admit they did things requiring forgiveness. “When I recently happened to confess about fifty people in a typical Orthodox parish in Pennsylvania,” Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote, “not one admitted to having committed any sin whatsoever!”

“We’re capable of doing some rotten things,” the Minnesota storyteller Garrison Keillor notes, “and not all of these things are the result of poor communication. Some are the result of rottenness. People do bad, horrible things. They lie and they cheat and they corrupt the government. They poison the world around us. And when they’re caught they don’t feel remorse––they just go into treatment. They had a nutritional problem or something. They explain what they did––they don’t feel bad about it. There’s no guilt. There’s just psychology.”

For the person who has committed a serious sin, there are two vivid signs––the hope that what one did may never become known, and a gnawing sense of guilt. At least this is the case before the conscience becomes completely numb––which happens when patterns of sin become the structure of one’s life to the extent that hell, far from being a possible next-life experience, is where one finds oneself in this life.

It is a striking fact about basic human architecture that we want certain actions to remain secret, not because of modesty, but because there is an unarguable sense of having violated a law more basic than that in any law book––the “law written in [our] hearts” to which St. Paul refers (Rom. 2:15). It isn’t simply that we fear punishment. It is that we don’t want to be thought of by others as a person who commits such deeds. One of the main obstacles to going to confession is dismay that someone else will know what I want no one to know.

One of the oddest things about the age we live in is that we are made to feel guilty about feeling guilty. There is a cartoon tacked up in our house in which one prisoner says to another, “Just remember––it’s okay to be guilty, but not okay to feel guilty.”

A sense of guilt––the painful awareness of having committed sins––can be life-renewing. Guilt provides a foothold for contrition, which in turn can motivate confession and repentance. Without guilt, there is no remorse; without remorse, there is no possibility of becoming free of habitual sins.

Yet there are forms of guilt that are dead-end streets. If I feel guilty that I have not managed to become the ideal person I occasionally want to be, or that I imagine others want me to be, that is guilt without a divine reference point. It is simply an irritated me contemplating an irritating me. Christianity is not centered on performance, laws, principles, or the achievement of flawless behavior, but on Christ Himself and on participation in God’s transforming love.

When Christ says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), he’s not speaking of getting a perfect score on a test, but of being whole, being in a state of communion, participating fully in God’s love.

This condition of being is suggested by St. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity: those three angelic figures silently inclined toward each other around a chalice on a small altar. They symbolize the Holy Trinity: the mysterious communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that exists within God––not a closed communion restricted to themselves alone, but an open communion of love, in which we are not only invited but intended to participate.

A blessed guilt is the pain we feel when we realize we have cut ourselves off from that divine communion that irradiates all creation. It is impossible to live in a Godless universe, but easy to be unaware of God’s presence or even to resent it.

It’s a common delusion that one’s sins are private or affect only a few other people. To think our sins, however hidden, don’t affect others is like imagining that a stone thrown into the water won’t generate ripples. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has observed: “There are no entirely private sins. All sins are sins against my neighbor, as well as against God and against myself. Even my most secret thoughts are, in fact, making it more difficult for those around me to follow Christ.”

Far from being hidden, each sin is another crack in the world.

One of the most widely used Orthodox prayers, the Jesus Prayer, is only one sentence long: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Short as it is, many people drawn to it are put off by the last two words. Those who teach the prayer are often asked, “But must I call myself a sinner?” In fact, the ending isn’t essential––the only essential word is “Jesus”––but my difficulty in identifying myself as a sinner reveals a lot. What makes me so reluctant to speak of myself in so plain a word? Don’t I do a pretty good job of hiding rather than revealing Christ in my life? Am I not a sinner? To admit that I am provides a starting point.

There are only two possible responses to sin: to justify it, or to repent. Between these two, there is no middle ground.

Justification may be verbal, but mainly it takes the form of repetition: I do again and again the same thing as a way of demonstrating to myself and others that it’s not really a sin, but rather something normal or human or necessary or even good. “Commit a sin twice and it will not seem a crime,” notes a Jewish proverb.

Repentance, however, is the recognition that I cannot live any more as I have been living because in living that way, I wall myself apart from others and from God. Repentance is a change in direction. Repentance is the door of communion. It is also a sine qua non of forgiveness. Absolution is impossible where there is no repentance.

As St. John Chrysostom said sixteen centuries ago in Antioch:

Repentance opens the heavens, takes us to Paradise, overcomes the devil. Have you sinned? Do not despair! If you sin every day, then offer repentance every day! When there are rotten parts in old houses, we replace the parts with new ones, and we do not stop caring for the houses. In the same way, you should reason for yourself: If today you have defiled yourself with sin, immediately cleanse yourself with repentance.

Confession as a Social Action: It is impossible to imagine a healthy marriage or deep friendship without confession and forgiveness. If we have done something that damages a relationship, confession is essential to its restoration. For the sake of that bond, we confess what we’ve done, we apologize, and we promise not to do it again; then we do everything in our power to keep that promise.

In the context of religious life, confession is what we do to safeguard and renew our relationship with God whenever it is damaged. Confession restores our communion with God and with each other.

It is never easy to admit to doing something we regret and are ashamed of, an act we attempted to keep secret or denied doing or tried to blame on someone else, perhaps arguing––to ourselves as much as to others––that it wasn’t actually a sin at all, or wasn’t nearly as bad as some people might claim. In the hard labor of growing up, one of the most agonizing tasks is becoming capable of saying, “I’m sorry.”

Yet we are designed for confession. Secrets in general are hard to keep, but unconfessed sins not only never go away, but have a way of becoming heavier as time passes––the greater the sin, the heavier the burden. Confession is the only solution.

To understand confession in its sacramental sense, one first has to grapple with a few basic questions: Why is the Church involved in for-giving sins? Is priest-witnessed con-fession really needed? Why confess at all to any human being? In fact, why bother confessing to God, even without a human witness? If God is really all-knowing, then God knows everything about me already. My sins are known before it even crosses my mind to confess them. Why bother telling God what God already knows?

Yes, truly God knows. My con-fession can never be as complete or revealing as God’s knowledge of me and of all that needs repairing in my life. But a related question we need to consider has to do with our basic design as social beings. Why am I so willing to connect with others in every other area of life, yet not in this? Why is it that I look so hard for excuses, even for theological ration-ales, not to confess? Why do I try so hard to explain away my sins, until I’ve decided either that they’re not so bad, or even that they might be seen as acts of virtue? Why is it that I find it so easy to commit sins, yet am so reluctant, in the presence of another, to admit to having done so?

We are social beings. The individual as autonomous unit is a delusion. The person without community, parents, spouse, or children exists only in ads. The individual is someone who has lost a sense of connection to others or attempts to exist in opposition to others––while the person exists in communion with other persons. At a conference of Orthodox Christians in France a few years ago, in a discussion of the problem of individualism, a theologian confessed, “When I am in my car, I am an individual, but when I get out, I am a person again.”

We are social beings. The language we speak connects us to those around us. The food I eat was grown by others. The skills passed on to me have slowly been developed in the course of hundreds of generations. The air I breathe and the water I drink is not for my exclusive use, has been in many bodies before mine, and will be used by others not yet born. The place I live, the tools I use, the keyboard I type on were made by many hands. I am not my own doctor or dentist. To the extent that I disconnect myself from others, I am in danger. Alone, I die, and soon. To be in communion with others is life.

Because we are social beings, confession in church does not take the place of confession to those we have sinned against. An essential element of confession is doing all I can to set right what I did wrong. If I stole something, it must be returned or paid for. If I lied to anyone, I must tell that person the truth. If I was angry without good reason, I must apologize. I must seek forgiveness not only from God but from those whom I have wronged or harmed.

We are also verbal beings. Words provide a way of communicating not only with others but with ourselves. The fact that confession is witnessed forces me to put into words all those ways, minor and major, in which I live as if there were no God and no commandment to love. A thought that is concealed has great power over us.

Confessing sins, or even temptations, makes us better able to resist. The under-lying principle is described in one of the collections of sayings of the Desert Fathers:

If impure thoughts trouble you, do not hide them, but tell them at once to your spiritual father and condemn them. The more a person conceals his thoughts, the more they multiply and gain strength. But an evil thought, when revealed, is immediately destroyed. If you hide things, they have great power over you, but if you could only speak of them before God, in the presence of another, then they will often wither away, and lose their power.

Confessing to anyone, even a stranger, renews rather than contracts my humanity, even if all I get in return for my confession is the well-worn remark, “Oh, that’s not so bad. After all, you’re only human.” But if I can confess to anyone anywhere, why confess in church in the presence of a priest? It’s not a small question in societies in which the phrase “institutionalized religion” is so often used, the implicit message being that religious institutions necessarily undermine spiritual life.

Confession is a Christian ritual with a communal character. Confession in the church differs from confession in your living room in the same way that getting married in church differs from simply living together. The communal aspect of the event tends to safeguard it, solidify it, and call everyone to account––those doing the ritual, and those witnessing it.

In the social structure of the Church, a huge network of local communities is held together in unity, each community helping the others and all sharing a common task, while each provides a specific place to recognize and bless the main events in life, from birth to burial. Confession is an essential part of that continuum. My confession is an act of reconnection with God and with all the people and creatures who depend on me and have been harmed by my failings, and from whom I have distanced myself through acts of non-communion. The community is represented by the person hearing my confession, an ordained priest delegated to serve as Christ’s witness, who provides guidance and wisdom that helps each penitent overcome attitudes and habits that take us off course, who declares forgiveness and restores us to communion. In this way our repentance is brought into the community that has been damaged by our sins––a private event in a public context.

“It’s a fact,” writes Fr. Thomas Hopko, retired rector of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, “that we cannot see the true ugliness and hideousness of our sins until we see them in the mind and heart of the other to whom we have confessed.”

A Communion-Centered Life: Attending the liturgy and receiving communion on Sundays and principal feast days is at the heart of Christian life, the event that gives life a eucharistic dimension and center point. But communion––receiving Christ into ourselves––can never be routine, never something we deserve, no matter what the condition of our life may be. For example, Christ solemnly warns us against approaching the altar if we are in a state of enmity with anyone. He tells us, “if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). In one of the parables, Christ describes a person who is ejected from the wedding feast because he isn’t wearing a wedding garment. Tattered clothing is a metaphor for living a life that reduces conscience to rags (Matthew 22:1–14).

Receiving Christ in communion during the liturgy is the keystone of living in communion––with God, with people, and with creation. Christ teaches us that love of God and love of neighbor sum up the Law. One way of describing a serious sin is to say it is any act which breaks our communion with God and with our neighbor.

It is for this reason that examination of conscience––if necessary, going to confession––is an essential part of preparation for communion. This is an ongoing process of trying to see my life and actions with clarity and honesty––to look at myself, my choices, and my direction as known by God. The examination of conscience is an occasion to recall not only any serious sins committed since my last confession, but even the beginnings of sins.

The word conscience derives from a Greek verb meaning “to have common knowledge” or “to know with” someone, a concept that led to the idea of bearing witness concerning someone, especially oneself. Conscience is an inner faculty that guides us in making choices that align us with God’s will, and that accuses us when we break communion with God and with our neighbor. Conscience is a reflection of the divine image at the core of each person. In The Sacred Gift of Life, Fr. John Breck points out that “the education of conscience is acquired in large measure through immersing ourselves in the ascetic tradition of the Church: its life of prayer, sacramental and liturgical celebration, and scripture study. The education of our conscience also depends upon our acquiring wisdom from those who are more advanced than we are in faith, love, and knowledge of God.”

Conscience is God’s whispering voice within us calling us to a way of life that reveals God’s presence and urges us to refuse actions that destroy community and communion.

Key Elements in Confession: Fr. Alexander Schmemann provided the following summary of the three key areas of confession:
 Relationship to God: Questions on faith itself, possible doubts or deviations, inattention to prayer, neglect of liturgical life, fasting, etc.
 Relationship to one’s neighbor: Basic attitudes of selfishness and self-centeredness, indifference to others, lack of attention, interest, love. All acts of actual offense––envy, gossip, cruelty, etc.––must be mentioned and, if needed, their sinfulness shown to the penitent.
 Relationship to one’s self: Sins of the flesh with, as their counterpart, the Christian vision of purity and wholesomeness, respect for the body as an icon of Christ, etc. Abuse of one’s life and resources; absence of any real effort to deepen life; abuse of alcohol or other drugs; cheap idea of “fun,” a life centered on amusement, irresponsibility, neglect of family relations, etc.

Tools of Self-Examination: In the struggle to examine conscience, we have tools that can assist us, resources that help both in the formation and the examination of conscience. Among these are the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and various prayers, as well as lists of questions written by experienced confessors. IC

This article as it appears here is the first half of a longer, printed booklet from Conciliar Media, a department of the Antiochian Archdiocese, as part of their popular series of attractive and informative booklets and brochures about the basic teachings of the ancient Orthodox Christian faith. The second half begins with the section we end with: Tools of Self-examination. For the entire article, please visit either of the following webistes:

http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2013/02/20/confession-primer/

http://www.antiochian.org/content/confession-healing-sacrament

St. Elizabeth: A Planned Community

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

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ST. ELIZABETH COMMUNITY is not yet in existence but is envisioned by its planners as a “Place of Belonging, a community where Orthodox Christians can live and heal together, sustaining a therapeutic way of life in relation to each other and the earth while serving the broader community on a healing path.” So reads the opening section in a proposal submitted by a group of Orthodox Christians in California through their parish priest to their bishop and a board of advisors. The following is the text of their proposal, which we are pleased to print in IC as an example of the kind of local, community-based ministry that is, essentially, Orthodox peace-work by design. We hope to draw attention to the work and also offer it is an inspiration to others. The proposal made its way to us via Jennifer Ferraez who is one of St. Elizabeth’s founding advisory board members and also a longtime OPF member.

Background

It was through the trauma of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr’s husband being killed that she dedicated her live to social services and caring for others whose souls had been stretched open by suffering. Other saints throughout history have engaged in a broad array of social services, acting as God’s hands on this earth: St. John of Kronstadt, St. Basil, St. Rafael of Brooklyn, Saints Herman and Innocent of Alaska, St. Maria Skobtsova, St. Brigid of Kildare, and many more

Today the Church has responded to the needs of its people and the surrounding community in various social service related ministries. Modern works include: St. Emmaus House of Harlem, Reconciliation Services in Kansas City, Rafael House, St. Elizabeth’s of Minsk, St Brigid Fellowship of Goleta, CA, and of course FOCUS North America which seeks to unite Orthodox organizations caring for those in need

In his travels through Eastern Europe in the summer of 2012, Fr. Paisius Altschul of Kansas City saw many communities of lay people in these former Soviet countries coming together to live, work, and pray. All with a desire to raise their children in the faith that they are now freely able to live. We have such examples in the United States of lay people uniting together in community, but they are either secular or of other faith groups. To this day, there are no Orthodox communities living on land with a goal to care for each other and the broader community. It is essential for the survival of such a community that services to others remains a goal, otherwise it will become an isolated bubble “utopia” that will eventually have the life drained from it. Many of us have come to realize through our own experience of suffering that all our healing is intertwined and we need each other to become all that God has intended us to be on this earth.

The world, especially Western society, is becoming increasingly driven by competition, material-ism, and individualism. These values result in a variety of physical and mental health “symptoms,” including loneliness, depression, anxiety, domestic violence, substance abuse, and violent behavior. When people lose their sense of connectedness to each other and the earth, their sense of self is distorted and aware-ness of God is diminished. We are now faced with two options: unite together in therapeutic communi-ties or fight for what are perceived to be scarce resources on this earth.

Community is one of the most basic human needs. A place of belonging is not only essential to our physical health and well-being, but is a critical factor in our spiritual development. We are who we are within the context of each other. Community reveals our weaknesses and need for each other, but also nurtures our strengths. Like stones on a river, it ultimately sculpts us into the creatures God had intended us to be and reveals our true colors.

Vision

The homeless, those returning from war, the formerly incarcerated, survivors of abuse (childhood and partner), those in recovery from drugs and alcohol, and survivors of disaster all have in common the shared experience of trauma which has forever altered their lives. Coming out on the other side of something that stretches the soul wide open—and sometimes shatters it, requires learning how to live again with this new-found knowledge. Many do not survive. In attempting to go back and reengage the world they once knew, they often find that nothing makes sense anymore. Life is forever altered. Not even people who were once familiar are a comfort. Loved ones may no longer be alive, they may have found other lives, or they may suddenly appear as strangers. Drugs, alcohol, and suicide are common results when the pain becomes to much to bear alone.

Surviving traumatic events requires a reorientation of perspective and a reintegration back into life—and eventually the broader community. This cannot be done alone. At St. Elizabeth’s people can support and guide each other in this healing process while participating in community life together—prayers, meals, work, etc. Everyone’s healing is intertwined, as it is also intertwined with the healing of the earth. The length of time spent living in the community will depend on the individual needs of those recovering. We believe that all suffering can be transformed to new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. A goal of the community is for those displaced by trauma to recover a sense of place again.

The proposed community will directly nurture two populations: 1) Orthodox Christians with a heart for social services and community living. Individuals or families who desire to live in a more rural place for their health and sanity, sharing their talents and skills. 2) Individuals displaced by trauma (homelessness, domestic violence, post-military, survivors of disaster, those in recovery from addiction, and others) who are seeking a transitional or more permanent place to live and desire to live in a rural community to continue their healing journey.

The community will also welcome and serve other populations: 1) Visiting pilgrims––those in the field of social services and medicine seeking retreat to rest and restore. This is an aim to prevent “secondary trauma” that can be acquired by working with those in need. 2) Those who would like to teach a seminar or skill to the community. 3) Clergy and family needing retreat to rest and restore.

Outside Ministry: Residents of the community will engage in outreach to the poor and homeless. Potential opportunities include street outreach in the nearby town of Santa Rosa, service at local drop in centers, providing weekly community meals, etc. It is important that the community not become disconnected from the heart and struggles of the poor in the broader community. Working in the streets and slums will “keep things real” and help keep the community healthy while we strive to be the hands of God on this earth.

Funding and Finances

A. Start up Costs: Primarily funding for land and any needed renovations. We are currently looking for at least twenty acres. World Stewardship Institute has offered to make the community a program under their organization until we are able to achieve nonprofit status on our own. They would allow us to manage our own bank account and begin to take donations.

B. On-going Budget: “Community tithes” (a percentage of their income) for food, development, and upkeep of the property. A number of our consultants have experience with grant writing, which will assist with additional funding as needed.

Location

Over the years many locations have been considered. There are certain criteria that were deemed absolutely necessary to sustaining a healthy Orthodox community that is connected to the broader community in service: a church close by, a town nearby, and preferably a monastery not too far away. It is also necessary there be open land and a political climate that would allow fairly free development of such a proposed community. Sonoma County has a long history of “intentional communities” and in speaking with business owners, such a community caring for the poor would be welcome. Santa Rosa has a handful of Orthodox Churches, including St. Seraphim’s where some of the long-term former community members of Rafael House attend. The Kazan Skete is also in town and the Assumption Monastery is in nearby Calistoga.

Physical Description of Community Layout

Among various elements being considered:
▪ two dorm style houses (1 male and 1 female)
▪ community house with dining room, industrial kitchen (to serve the community and prepare food to be sold), library, living-room with fireplace
▪ cabins or yurts for individuals, families of permanent residents, guests
▪ chapel where residents and visitors can engage in prayers together
▪ garden and greenhouse to grow food for the community and the poor
▪ workshops for iconography, music, woodworking, pottery, candle making, etc.
▪ barn for, among other things, chickens and goats
▪ clinical space for counseling, medicine, etc.

Advisory Board

Jennifer Ferraez: Clinical social worker specializing in recovery from trauma. Co-founder of St. Brigid Fellowship (Goleta, CA) and founding team member of Doctors Without Walls. Also a Drug and Alcohol Counselor and member of St. Athanasius Church in Santa Barbara.

Fr. Athanasius Shaw wife Molly: Members of the the Rafael House from its inception until recently. Molly has a background in administration and development. Fr. Athanasius is a volunteer with IOCC. The couple continue to offer insight and guidance to the formation of the community and potential community member.

Fred Krueger: Began our community discussion of the healing of humanity being intertwined with the healing of the earth. Founder and director of the Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration and the World Stewardship Institute. Member of St. Seraphim Parish in Santa Rosa. Community consultant.

Christina De Michael: Member of St. Seraphim Parish in Santa Rosa. Would like to live in community and teach iconography.

Panteleimon David Walker: Currently working with those in recovery from drugs and alcohol. Interested treating those in the community and possibly joining the community. Member of St. Seraphim Parish in Santa Rosa. Community consultant and acupuncturist.

Bob Harrison: Logistics expert and former member of Rafael House. He and wife, Connie are potential community members.

Carmela Biggs: Adviser and potential community member. Former nurse for Rafael House.

Father Paisius Altschul: Clinical social worker who founded and directed (recently retired) Reconciliation Services in Kansas City which cares for the poor and homeless in their community. He is also the the priest of St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church. Adviser to community.

Fr. Jon-Stephen Hedges: Consultant regarding trauma and disaster mental health. Volunteer with IOCC. Assistant priest of St. Athanasius Church in Santa Barbara. Co-founder of St. Brigid Fellowship.

Deborah McQuade: Founder and director of Sarah House hospice for the poor and homeless in Santa Barbara. Former member of a Catholic Worker community. Member of St. Athanasius Church. Adviser and potential community member.

Valerie Yova: St. Athanasius (Goleta, CA) church administrator and choir director. Former director of Public Relations for Project Mexico and Assistant Manager for Capital Campaign. Community consultant and interested in working with community members through music therapy.

Metropolitan Jonah (formerly Abbot Jonah): Adviser in the early years of brain-storming. Introduced us to the work of Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier who, through their work with the L’Arche, revealed a model of “professionals” and those in need living in community under the realization that all our healing is intertwined.

Mo. Victoria of St. Barbara Monastery: Community adviser and spiritual guide.

Jim and Nancy Forrest: Community consultants. Founders and directors of Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

Social Services & Communities Referenced

L’Arche: http://www.larcheusa.org/
Reconciliation Services: http://www.rs3101.org/
Orthodox Peace Fellowship: http://www.incommunion.org/
IOCC: www.iocc.org
Rafael House: http://www.raphaelhouse.org/
Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration (OFT): http://www.orth-transfiguration.org/
World Stewardship Institute: www.Ecostewards.org
St. Brigid Fellowship: http://www.stathanasius.org/ministries/st-brigid-fellowship/
St. Elizabeth’s of Minsk: http://www.obitel-minsk.by/obitel-minsk_mid2475.html
Doctors Without Walls: www.santabarbarastreetmedicine.org
Catholic Worker: http://www.catholicworker.org/communities/commlistall.cfm
Emmaus House: http://www.emmaushouse-harlem.org/
FOCUS North America: http://www.focusnorthamerica.org/

Poetry: Holy Wisdom

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Holy Wisdom

Like a master worker,
Like a little child,
I did all things while you yet lived
In abject nothingness, a thought.

While the Lord planted men
In cities, in wilderness,
In deserts and oceans where his
Fingerprints form in the sand,
Among clouds where they sometimes appear
As archipelagos of energy, and
Where their variety displays in the many barks of trees;
While he made eye and ear, mind and hand
To pull in signals also of his making,
Making them appear outside of godhead—I was there.
In your infirmity and in your death I will prevail,
Even over oblivion, for he who made me
Before anything was made,
Placed me between the Begetting
And Time, who followed,
And in a figure deigned to be born of me,
Has in pulling himself up raised all things,
Who chose by me to lift all from chaos,
And that there should rather be than not be. . . .

–Matthew R. Brown

September 2013

Patience with God

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

OldSpeak_Schaeffer_2009-1

by Frank Schaeffer
Da Capo Press, 2009, 230pp

Reviewed by Alex Patico

Reviewing Frank Schaeffer (author of novels such as Portofino, and non-fiction works including Keeping Faith), is challenging. His writing is so closely associated with the story-arc of his own life––a childhood within one of the inner circles of evangelical Christianity, and a journey across the faith spectrum to light in the bosom of the Orthodox Church––that it is hard to view that body of work on its own merits. One must be able to judge a book on several levels: literary merit, intellectual con-tent, style, authenticity and so forth.

Patience with God was published in 2009, after Schaeffer’s books about his son’s military service, and before his latest novel, And God said, Billy! All his books have to do, in some way, with religion, faith, and the search for God, but Patience is focused directly on that subject matter. It deals with three paths diverging in a wood, if you will: fundamentalist Christianity, atheism (especially the “New Atheism“) and an option that is contrasted with both of those poles.

The subtitle of the book is “Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism).” Turned off by a politicized and intolerant Religious Right, and uncomfortable with acerbic attacks from non-religionists, many look for a third way, which retains the baby while tossing the bath water.

I was impressed with several ele-ments of this book. First is Schaeffer’s approach to the acquisition of spiritual knowledge (with which some readers may have a problem, while others will be encouraged):

“When salvation is understood as a journey, there is no pressure to make snap decisions and ‘get right with God.’ And because everyone is on the same path––even atheists––those at different stages on that path are not judged as ‘lost.’ In that sense, what many Fathers of the Church said is understandable…. The Church can only say how some people may find the path of salvation, but never who is lost…. One is freed from the illusion of certainty.”

This captures the essence of the volume: that sincere searching, of what-ever kind, is to be applauded, while zero sum standoffs about doctrine do no one any good. Does this flirt with anything-goes relativism? I think not, but readers will have to judge for themselves.

Second, judiciously chosen quotes from Soren Kierkegaard add meatiness to the narrative:

“Let others admire and extol him who claims to be able to comprehend Christianity…. I regard it then as a plain duty to admit that one neither can nor shall comprehend it.“

“One sees now how…extraordinarily stupid it is to defend Christianity…, making of Christianity a miserable something or other which in the end has to be rescued by a defense.“

“Man is offended at Christianity… because it is too high, because its goal is not man’s goal, because it would make of a man something so extraordinary that he is unable to get it into his head.”

What Schaeffer takes from this nineteenth-century Danish philosopher (often called an existentialist) is the radical jarring of our modern Christian consciousness that real progress toward spiritual achievement requires.

Third, the author draws on personal relationships, such as those with the couple who ran his boarding school in England, or with a craftsman he met there. They taught him life lessons that have served his well––about kindness, diligence, integrity, and humanity.

Fourth, Schaeffer distinguishes between the responsible and serious atheists (and believers ) with whom he picks no quarrel, and others who are, by personality and mission, antagonistic. Figures like Bertrand Russell stand out as well-meaning and serious questioners of faith, who may in the end actually strengthen its claim on our spirit. This comment of Russell on mortality could find a comfortable home in the reflec-tions of an Orthodox monk: “To aban-don the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things––this is emancipation, and this is the free man’s worship…. United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom, the free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every daily task the light of love.”

I’ll let this quote of Shaeffer’s sum up my thoughts: “The cure for hubris…is, I think, to experience God through fail-ure, beauty, tragedy, community, and love.“ The open-minded will find much to like in Schaeffer’s third way––which is The Way of Christ. IC

The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality

Friday, May 30th, 2014

monk3The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality is not the Philokalia but a book about it. Published a little over a year ago, this book is a collection of essays discussing the history, theology and spirituality, anthropology, and major themes of the Philokalia. Its authors include Met. Kallistos Ware, Fr. Anthony McGuckin, Fr. Andrew Louth, Fr. John Chryssavgis, and fourteen others. Look for a review of the book in the next issue of In Communion.
Below are a few excerpts from both books that address the overarching theme of this issue of In Communion: the links between sin and violence and the remedy of Love acquired through prayer, confession and repentance, humility, and self-sacrificial action:

From The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality:
“If the Philokalia has an important value for the moral and spiritual edification of the modern age, it does so because its various authors provide us with a radical perspective: the authentic encounter of God dissolves all utopian desires to build a paradise on earth. The sphere of immanence cannot replace the heavenly kingdom, which must be taken by force (Matthew 11:12). To die together with Christ on the Cross means to pay by way of repentance an expected visit to our inner hell—that is, to descend into our darkest self, and from there to recognize the imperative need for healing, transformation, and redemption….

“The Philokalia reminds every revolutionary that no human being can bring about more than a very limited amount of good into the world. Most of the time, we betray ourselves and fail to meet the best expectations entertained by our friends, colleagues, relatives, and neighbors. The remedy for the earliest symptoms of self-delusion is contained in humility and continued penance. More than an exercise in sincerity and an experience of public shame (occasioned by the presence of the Other), the act of confession builds up courage and boldness….

“The power to confess one’s sins also demonstrates the saintly transparency of the true Christian soul. Those who have overcome the temptation of vanity have nothing to hide. Rivalry and hypocrisy, however, are the most widespread currency in worldly affairs, from which divine love and genuine desire to communicate with the neighbor are absent” (The Philokalia: a Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality, pp. 67 & 68).

“Beguiled from their original state, in which their whole selves, soul and body, would find true delight and genuine satisfaction through communion with God, Adam and Eve chose death rather than true life. The craftiness of the Devil, which deceived Adam and Eve in a malicious and cunning way, provoked them through self-love to sensual pleasure, leading to the disordering of their original state. This disruption of humanity’s original condition, in which love for God and love for neighbor preserved harmony in creation, was the result of a trio of evil instigators: ignorance, self-love, and tyranny. Maximus says from ignorance comes self-love, and from self-love comes tyranny over one’s own kind….

“Exploiting the will, Maximus argues, the Devil provoked human beings through self-love to the pursuit of sensual pleasure. As a result, human beings are separated in their wills from God and from one another. Humanity has been divided into many opinions and deluded by many fantasies. If human beings had obeyed God’s command from the beginning, then virtue would have naturally flowered in the human heart, and union with God through love would have been realized. Instead, disobedience brought about a cosmic breach, a series of divisions between creatures, and between creatures and Creator. Along with these rifts resulting from human disobedience, the Fall misaligned the human faculties that were designed to contemplate spiritual realities and lead to union with God. Because of the Fall, Maximus asserts, the Devil riveted the attention of these faculties to visible things, so that human beings were preoccupied with sensible things and acquired no understanding of what lies beyond the senses. This misuse of free will, leading to deceit and self-absorption, is healed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit breaks the unhealthy attachment of the faculties to material things and restores them to their original state. Only then are men and women enabled to move beyond being captivated by visible things, to search out divine realities, and to fulfill their vocation as human beings. Moreover, because of humanity’s microcosmic and mediatory role in the universe, as composite beings consisting of body and soul (or matter and spirit), the consequences of the Fall spread through the created order. The disobedience of man and woman brought about the sentence of death on all nature. Human beings were intended to bring all created things into harmony and union with God, but now human beings, apart from divine grace, lead created things toward death. By succumbing to and cooperating with the deceit and trickery of the Devil, human beings take part in destroying the works of God and dissolving what has been brought into existence” (The Philokalia pp. 147 & 148).

“What, then, is the nature of the pathology that the Philokalia diagnoses? Fundamentally, the passions are themselves, collectively and individually, understood as being a kind of disease, or sickness, of the soul….
These Philokalic references to sickness and disease show great diversity. However, they also show a more or less consistent understanding of the human condition as giving evidence of a kind of pathology of the soul….

“In fact, even if these explicit metaphors were not used, the account of the passions provided by the Philokalia would arguably invite the use of medical metaphors such as disease, sickness, and illness. The passions are portrayed as causing pain and dysfunction in the spiritual life, as being contrary to nature, and as leading to death if left untreated….

More generally, healing of the soul is described as being brought about through meditation and prayer, the compassion of God, pain and suffering, the passion of Christ, wisdom, and reproof. Specific remedies for specific passions include almsgiving for the healing of the soul’s incensive power, spiritual knowledge for the healing of mental dejection, humility for envy and self-conceit, solitude for conceit and vanity. But again the whole tenor of the Philokalia is one of healing of the human condition and even where this is implicit rater than explicit, or where other kinds of metaphors are used, it would still seem appropriate to understand the Philokalia as offering a kind of therapeutic repertoire, or pharmacopoeia, for the treatment of the soul afflicted by the passions. Thus ascetic discipline, prayer (including the Jesus prayer), psalmody, and guarding of the heart might all be understood as therapies for the soul” (The Philokalia pp. 230 & 231).

From the Philokalia:
“It is always possible to make a new start by means of repentance. ‘You fell,’ it is written, ‘now arise’ (Prov. 24:16). And if you fall again, then rise again, without despairing at all for your salvation, no matter what happens. So long as you do not surrender yourself willingly to the enemy, your patient endurance, combined with self-reproach, will suffice for your salvation. ‘For at one time we ourselves went astray in our folly and disobedience,’ says St. Paul. ‘…Yet He saved us, not because of any good things we had done, but in His mercy’ (Tit. 3:3, 5). So do not despair in any way, ignoring God’s help, for he can do whatever He wishes. On the contrary, place your hope in Him and He will do one of these things: either through trials and temptations, or or in some other way which He alone knows, He will bring about your restoration; or He will accept your patient endurance and humility in the place of works; or because of your hope He will act lovingly towards you in some other way of which you are not aware, and so will save your shackled soul. Only do not abandon your Physician, for otherwise you will suffer senselessly the twofold death because you do not know the hidden ways of God….

“Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding Him in your ignorance as powerless? Is He, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as His incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and He will receive your repentance, as He accepted that of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15:20) and the prostitute (cf. Luke 7:37-50). But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican (cf. Luke 18:13): this is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion, and will be full of gratitude towards his Benefactor, and so may receive many other blessings as well. Even if he is subject to the devil in that he sins, yet from fear of God he disobeys the enemy when the latter tries to make him despair. Because of this he has his portion with God; for he is grateful, gives thanks, is patient, fears God, does not judge so that he may not be judged. All these are crucial qualities. It is as St. John Chrysostom says about Gehenna: it is almost of greater benefit to us than the kingdom of heaven, since because of it many enter into the kingdom of heaven, while few enter for the sake of the kingdom itself: and if they do enter it, it is by virtue of God’s compassion. Gehenna pursues us with fear, the kingdom embraces us with love, and through them both we are saved by Christ’s grace” (St. Peter of Damascus, Philokalia, vol. 3, pp. 160 & 170).

“If a man disregards the commandment about prayer, he then commits worse acts of disobedience, each one handing him over to the next like a prisoner….

“He who accepts present afflictions in the expectation of future blessings has found knowledge of the truth; and he will easily be freed from anger and remorse.
He who fights against others out of fear of hardship or reproach will either suffer more harshly through what befalls him in this life, or will be punished mercilessly in the life to come….

“Do not be overcome by the anger which causes you to hate your brother and for some pathetic reason to inflict and suffer pain, leading you to store up malicious thoughts against your neighbor and to turn away from pure prayer. Anger enslaves the intellect, and makes you regard your brother with bestial cruelty; it fetters the conscience with uncontrolled impulses of the flesh, and surrenders you for a time to be chastised by the evil spirits to whom you have yielded….

“Eventually your intellect, at a loss where to turn, is overwhelmed by dejection and laziness and forfeits all its spiritual progress. Then in deep humility it sets out once more on the path of salvation. Laboring much in prayer and all-night vigils it uproots the causes of evil within itself through humility and confession before God and our neighbor. In this way it begins to regain the state of watchfulness and, illumined with divine grace and understanding of the Gospels, it perceives that no one can become a true Christian unless he gives himself up completely to the cross in a spirit of humility and self-denial, and makes himself lower than all, letting himself be trampled underfoot, insulted, despised, wronged, ridiculed, and mocked; and all this he must endure joyfully for the Lord’s sake, not claiming for himself in return any human advantages; glory, honor, or praise, or the pleasure of food, drink, or clothes….

“Such are the contests and such the prizes that lie before us” (St. Mark the Ascetic, Philokalia, vol. 1, pp. 139-40, 149). IC