Tag Archives: freedom

He spoke of prison with nostalgia.

Braga quote joy OCN crp

“My dear friends, I think the mystery of my life is joy, and I never tire of telling everyone
to be joyful. Why should we be sad when we belong to the Lord and He love us so much
that He cannot take His eyes off us, as a mother cannot take her eyes off her baby?”

About ten years ago, James Kushiner interviewed Father Roman Braga for Salvo magazine, and the interview was published in this article: “Solitary Refinement.”

Not long afterward, following Fr. Roman’s repose in death, Kushiner wrote again, in a 2015 Touchstone magazine newsletter:

Prisoner of the Redeemer   

Early this morning, about a four-hour drive east of Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, a new and much smaller church in the Michigan countryside sheltered the body of a recently departed priest-monk of the Orthodox Church, Fr. Roman Braga. His funeral was scheduled to begin at 9:30 AM.

While Fr. Roman held no office as elevated as the Archbishop of Chicago, it would not surprise me if in some ways he influenced nearly as many people over the years through his counsel, prayers, and service to the church–to all who spoke with him.

Fr. Roman moved to Michigan from Brazil the same year I moved from Michigan to Chicago (1972). Twenty-five years later, on October 7, 1997, I met him for the first time at Holy Dormition Orthodox Monastery in Michigan. I was privileged to have a several conversations with him over the years, including an interview published in Salvo Magazine (Solitary Refinement: How One Man Found Freedom Inside a Communist Prison. A former high school teacher, he *loved* Salvo and young people.) His counsel helped me in many ways.

Fr. Roman was expelled from his native Romania in 1968, where he had served as a priest of the Romanian Orthodox Church. He had spent 5 years in a labor camp digging the Black Sea Canal, and later served 6 years of a new 18-year sentence, including time in solitary confinement, before being released under a general amnesty in 1964. He began his priestly ministry, watched carefully by the secret police, who came one night in 1968 with a Brazilian passport in hand and expelled him.

Fr. Roman said he discovered Jesus Christ more deeply in the depths of his being in prison, especially in solitary confinement, where he came to experience true spiritual freedom. He spoke of prison with nostalgia.

The New Testament has many scenes in prison: John and Peter, then Peter, Paul and Silas, then Paul. How many of Paul’s epistles were written from prison?

Didn’t the new church of God began in a prison (phulake), with the first sermon preached (ekeruxen) to its prisoners by Pilate’s former Prisoner (1 Peter 3:19)? Here the “gates of hell” did not prevail against Christ and his new church as he burst those gates and led the captives free.

I could sense from the way Fr. Roman prayed and chanted the “Akathist Hymn to Jesus Christ” on Sundays before Divine Liturgy that I was witnessing a loving communion between the Lord and his servant. One stanza is an icon of his faith:

Jesus, true God.
Jesus, Son of David.
Jesus, glorious King.
Jesus, innocent Lamb.
Jesus, Shepherd most marvellous.
Jesus, Protector of mine infancy.
Jesus, Guide of my youth.
Jesus, Boast of mine old age.
Jesus, my Hope at death.
Jesus, my Life after death.
Jesus, my Comfort at Your judgment.
Jesus, my Desire, let me not then be ashamed.

He also praised Jesus Christ, “Redeemer of those below” and “Vanquisher of the nethermost powers.” Fr. Roman was singing a song to his Paschal Liberator. I will always think of him with a captivating twinkle in his eye, revealing an inner joy forged in the crucible of prison. He was, with St. Paul, a “prisoner of the Lord” and true servant.

Father Roman, I trust, beholds the face of his Beloved Savior in the mansions of the righteous. Christ is risen! Memory eternal!

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner

Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

Anyone can possess a poem.

“Why We No Longer But Still Could Have Beautiful Things” is something Anthony Esolen discusses in an article titled “The Ugly and the Good,”  which was first published in Touchstone in 2020. This month he republished it in his Substack newsletter.

Wells Cathedral, England

Esolen begins by talking about beautiful cathedrals built in the Middle Ages:

“I’ve come to see the medieval cathedrals of Europe as the most glorious works of folk art the world has ever known…. They rose up as a lofty expression of the piety of ordinary people, the work of hundreds of men’s hands, digging the deep cavity for the foundation, hewing and setting delicate half-ton stones without mortar, mixing colors for paint or the glazing of windows, searching the forests for the tallest oaks to fell and to carve into beams to span a roof; far more kinds of work than I know and can name.

“They did it because they loved doing it. They were free.”

He contrasts freedom with license, using the example of Ebenezer Scrooge for the latter:

“To be free is not, O modern man, to be rid of all claims upon your love, your duty, your person, and your substance. If that were true, then Charles Dickens crafted a truly blithe and free spirit in the unregenerate Ebenezer Scrooge, crouching alone in his dismal flat and eating gruel gone sour. If you are talking about freedom and you are not talking about love and devotion, then you are not talking about freedom at all; you are talking about moral license, or a permission guaranteed by statutory law, that you may in some regard do exactly as you like, which may include gazing endlessly at evil pictures on your computer screen, and thus transforming yourself, cell by cell and pulse by pulse, into a thing, an automaton.”

Van Gogh, The Good Samaritan

His college students ask him for a definition of freedom, because, unfortunately, many of them are puzzled by his statements about what it is not. This is his answer:

“Freedom is the unimpeded capacity to attain to the perfection proper to the kind of creature you are. But since man is made in the image of the God who is a three-personed communion of love, his perfection, the enlargement of his soul, can only come by means of a gift, by the gift of grace from God, which enables him to make of himself a gift to others. There is no truly human freedom without grace, and the love that is its proper response.”

As to modern man’s failure to develop a love, or even a desire for beautiful things, Esolen proposes three reasons. If you’re interested enough that you’ve read this far, you can read them in the article: “The Ugly and the Good”

He also exhorts us to work on the restoration of the culture we have lost:

 “We must take back the heart, the chest, the seat of proper passions, which is to take back from Satan those commanding heights of the imagination, which is to reject the errors I have mentioned and to repair the harm they have done. We must not value the useful over the beautiful. We must not reduce beauty to a commodity. We must not forget that our experience of beauty should lead us back to the source of beauty, who is God.”

Esolen suggests that we spend more time cultivating an appreciation for art of every sort; and that we start with the beautiful things that are most accessible:

“Song and poetry are the most immediately available of all the arts, requiring only a human mind and a human voice. If you want a Rembrandt, you have to go see it, or carry a copy with you under your arm while you avert your eyes from the glare of the policeman. Grand pianos, with Van Cliburn sitting at them, are not to be found on every street corner. You cannot from your porch in New Hampshire gaze upon the great arms that Bernini conceived for St. Peter’s piazza, extending in the shape of a key to embrace the thousands who would come to worship there.

“But anyone can possess a song or a poem. If you have a voice, you can sing, and if you have a mind, you can remember what you sing. If you have a voice, you can utter a poem, and remember what you have uttered. In a way, you can best possess a song only by singing it, and a poem only by giving it the performance of your mind and heart and voice and body. Song and poetry should be the most democratic of the arts, more truly by the people, of the people, and for the people than anything else in our experience.”

That brings me to — Poetry Month! I have a little experience of what he’s talking about here, knowing by heart several poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses, which give me joy when I have occasion to recite them, usually to a grandchild, these days. How many songs do I know? Oh my, countless! After reading Esolen, I am extra grateful for all the songs and singing I have loved throughout my life. I am singing these days more than ever.

This short and beloved poem below, which I think I’ve shared here more than once — maybe I should compose a tune for it. Because of its simplicity and rhythm it embedded itself in my mind very easily, long ago, and years later it was right at hand to speak aloud, one night when my late husband and I were peering over a bridge into the dark, where with the help of a street light we could see ripples in the stream down below.

The tide in the river,
The tide in the river,
The tide in the river runs deep.
I saw a shiver
Pass over the river
As the tide turned in its sleep.

–Eleanor Farejon

May we nurture ever more beauty, music and poetry in our lives,
and offer the joy with thankfulness up to God.

by Jan Schmuckal

Knowledge and rationalizations.

Today in the Orthodox Church we remember The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.

“The knowledge of Good and Evil, no matter how systematically or thoroughly consumed, will by no means make us gods. Rather, modern ethics, modern psychotherapy, and modern political ideologies all tend to produce not superhumans but pitiable slaves to the rationalizations generated by our distorted human desires. In order to gain control over the world, we have been too willing to renounce essential aspects of our own freedom.”

― Timothy G. Patitsas, The Ethics of Beauty

Will I finish reading The Ethics of Beauty during Lent? Maybe not, but I will at least keep plugging away at it. It’s full of insights about the order of Creation, including the humans, of course — and is infused with much wisdom and hope.

Slave, servant, son: St. Onesimus

“Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.”

This is a middle portion of the Letter to Philemon that St. Paul wrote to his friend about a runaway slave. It’s an unusually short and focused epistle in the New Testament, dealing mainly with this issue of the freedom of Onesimus, who had been converted while he and the apostle were in prison together.

The article, “Holy Apostle Onesimus as a Model for our Lives,” contrasts the former life of Onesimus as a “worthless slave” to his new life as a brother in Christ, and a valuable servant, as St. Paul describes him so movingly:

“I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.”

St. Philemon did forgive Onesimus, and sent him back to Paul as requested. Philemon was later made bishop of Gaza, and Onesimus continued to serve the apostles and was also consecrated as bishop.

This article on the Life of Onesimus gives more details about his bishopric and preaching, and ends with his death in this fashion:

“During the reign of the emperor Trajan (89-117), Saint Onesimus was arrested and brought to trial before the eparch Tertillus. He held the saint in prison for eighteen days, and then sent him to prison in the city of Puteoli. After a certain while, the eparch sent for the prisoner and, convincing himself that Saint Onesimus maintained his faith in Christ, had him stoned, after which they beheaded the saint with a sword. A certain illustrious woman took the body of the martyr and placed it in a silver coffin. This took place in the year 109.”

At this season of the year the Orthodox Church remembers both St. Philemon and St. Onesimus, which is why I was prompted to revisit this story, which I find I love more than ever. It prompts the author of the first article linked above to this thought:

“Let us pray that God shows us true spiritual fathers, even in our days,
who can help people be reborn, so as to acquire perfect love,
and from useless servants to become useful and free.”

-Fr. George Papavarnavas