Tag Archives: Fr. Stephen Freeman

The paltriness of the good and the bad.

Father Stephen:

I can think of no Church Father who spoke more forcefully or critically about the moral failings of his time than St. John Chrysostom. He did not hesitate to call out the Emperor, or problems within the larger Church. Eventually, his words brought about his exile. Banished to the very edge of the empire, he died in isolation. Writing to the Deaconness Olympia, his closest friend and confidant, he expressed the very heart of Orthodoxy in troubled times:

“Therefore, do not be cast down, I beseech you. For there is only one thing, Olympia, to fear, only one real temptation, and that is sin. This is the refrain that I keep chanting to you ceaselessly. For everything else is ultimately a fable – whether you speak of plots, or enmities, or deceptions, or slanders, or abuses, or accusations, or confiscations, or banishments, or sharpened swords, or high seas, or war engulfing the entire world. Whichever of these you point to, they are transitory and perishable, and they only affect mortal bodies; they cannot in any way injure the watchful soul. This is why, wishing to express the paltriness of both the good and the bad things of this present life, the blessed Paul stated the matter in one phrase, saying, ‘For the things that are seen are transient’ (2 Cor. 4:18).”

From Letter 7, Saint John Chrysostom’s Letters to Saint Olympia.

From Fr. Stephen Freeman’s recent post: Into the Heart of the Capitol

This is the Wisdom of Man.

“I have stood near the cave of St. Jerome in Bethlehem, and seen the recently excavated graves of the Holy Innocents. There are a mass of infant burials, clearly made in haste, with evidence of violence, all dating to the first century. It is not a Biblical myth but a crime scene as gruesome as any that we could imagine. This is the Wisdom of Man.

“The Wisdom of Man measures strength and power by the ability to administer brute force. Whether a sword or nuclear weapon – power is defined by physics. Were the power that confronted us measured in the same manner, victory could be as simple as a mathematical equation. But the power of God, the Wisdom of God, that confronted King Herod and all the so-called “rulers” of this world, belonged to a realm that is wholly other.”

-Father Stephen Freeman, in this article: “The Wisdom of Man and the Foolishness of God”

Troparion:

As acceptable victims and freshly plucked flowers,
As divine first-fruits and newborn lambs,
You were offered to Christ who was born as a child, Holy Innocents.
You mocked Herod’s wickedness;
Now we beseech you:
“Unceasingly pray for our souls.”

 

Since we are poor, a warmth.

FINAL SOLILOQUY OF THE INTERIOR PARAMOUR

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

-Wallace Stevens

I discovered this poem on the blog Kingdom Poets, where the poet-blogger D.S. Martin wonders if Stevens ought even to be “mentioned in a blog about Christian poetry.” Martin also quotes a few speculative lines from a biographer of Stevens, as to the lifelong skeptic’s motives for receiving Christian baptism on his deathbed. I’d like to read more of what he wrote later in life, but the images and evocations of this poem are familiar enough to me to make me think that Wallace Stevens had truly tasted of the Kingdom of God, that Holy Spirit-quickened heart where Christ dwells, of which He spoke when He said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

St. Porphyrios said provocatively, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.Father Stephen Freeman has quoted the saint when he writes about “what can drive us both to poetry as well as theology”:

“The reduction of the world and its ‘history’ are the tools of those who lack the imagination and patience to find the truth. The Fathers tell us to ‘pay attention.’ This is true with regard to the heart, but it is also true with regard to the world around us. Attention does not solve the mystery, but it at least acknowledges its presence and gives rise to enough wonder to make understanding possible at some point.”

“Evil is never creative. It is destructive and occasionally diverse in its activities. But creativity requires energy and commitment. Evil’s own entropy always reduces it to banality and boredom. It prefers prose: poetry is too much work.”

Fr. Stephen also quotes a poem from e.e. cummings, including the lines, “i do not know what it is about you… only something in me understands…”

The type of somethings that e.e. cummings refers to can’t be known intellectually, but they are the testimony of our own experience that “mystery is not only an aspect of the divine, but part of the nature of all reality. Everything is far more than it appears.”

I am eternally grateful to writers like Wallace Stevens who commit their strength of mind and length of days to sharing their glimpses of the mysterious reality behind the obvious,

…since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Healing in all directions.

“There is never a pain as deep as that inflicted by someone who is supposed to love you. Such injuries echo through the years and the generations. The face that stares back at us in the mirror is easily a fractal of someone whose actions power our own insanity. We can hate a parent, only to be haunted by their constant presence in us.”

The first part of Father Stephen Freeman’s post for today, “Every Generation,” is about that dark side of our human connectedness. But the reality of it works positively, also, as we all know, if not from our own families, then from others who might seem to have received a better legacy.

The older I get, the more time I spend considering all of the people who have gone before who have contributed to my physical and/or spiritual well-being. The Orthodox Church trains us in this perspective by bringing us very close to the saints throughout time whose names we do know, and closer to this earthly home, we often remember in our thankful prayers the “founders of this holy temple.”

No doubt the prayers of my Sunday School teachers and other adults protected me as I grew up; the teachers and friends, my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles gave me so much, in particular behaviors and actions that must remain in large degree a mystery to us who can only see the outward.

In many cases I’m sure that their gift to their descendants was to struggle… and fail; but having struggled, their defeat was not as much of a failure as it would have been. God only knows how they tried, how hard it was just to keep going day after day. If their minds were ignorant of the significance of their lives to the whole of humanity, they were nevertheless contributing:

“If we inherit a burden within our life, so our salvation, our struggles with that burden, involve not only ourselves but those who have gone before as well as those who come after. We struggle as the ‘Whole Adam’ (in the phrase of St. Silouan).

“There is an Athonite saying: ‘A monk heals his family for seven generations.’ When I first heard this, my thought was, ‘In which direction?’ The answer, I think, is every direction. We are always healing the family tree as we embrace the path of salvation, monk or layman. Our lives are just that connected.”

What does all that have to do with Christ’s mother? In her prophecy Mary said, “All generations shall call me blessed.” There is a lot packed into that statement. As Father Stephen writes:

“In her person we see all generations gathered together. Her ‘be it unto me according to your word’ resounds in the heart of every believer, uniting them to her heart whose flesh unites us to God.”

Read the whole article. I didn’t quote quite all of it! When I started to write this post it was still the Feast of the Dormition of Mary, which is a fitting day to think about these things. Now we have passed liturgically to the next day, but that’s okay, because every day is good to remember family and be thankful.