Words

Life

Category: The Sacraments

Passion

by Andrea Elizabeth

Our next book club reading is C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. I read it almost 10 years ago, and am now listening to it in the car. We just came to Chapter 5, which is the first part I remember. It is where the priest explains the sacrifice Ungit demands. It is Penal Substitution. Here’s the last part quoted from here,

“The contradictions of the religion of Glome make it nonsensical.  How can a shadow be an animal which is also a goddess who is also a god?  How can loving be eating?  How can the Accursed be both wicked and perfect, a victim and married to the god?  “It can’t be both” (49-50).

The Priest’s response is a classic defense of the validity of religious mystery against the critique of human rationality and deserves to be quoted at length.

 

Greek wisdom” cannot understand “holy things.  They demand to

see such things clearly, as if the gods were no more than letters

written in a book. … they dazzle our eyes and flow in and out of

one another like eddies on a river, and nothing that is said clearly

can be said truly about them.  Holy places are dark places.  It is

life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them.

Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark

like blood.  Why should the Accursed not be both the best and the

worst? (50).”

It is the idea that for us to become pure and perfect, Christ had to become wicked, both in an imputed, not natural, way. But he does not stay wicked, not in the usual tellings, but he seems to stay both here. In the usual tellings he takes the punishment for being wicked, and gets rid of it, I suppose also in a declared way.

In the Orthodox Chistus Victor model, Christ makes sin powerless by not letting it hold sway over him. I’ll admit it is hard to see how 2 Cor. 5:21 fits in with this, but Romans 6:6 seems a bit more nuanced, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” It’s as if he drew all sin into his body, and that his death ran it through a filter, as it were. The dirt and corruption were cleansed from his flesh which was renewed in his resurrection. The way Lewis describes the temple and the beast with such gore reminds me of Catholic “Eucharistic miracles” where the wine and bread are turned into actual lumps of flesh floating in blood. Orthodox Eucharistic “sightings” are of light emanating from the gifts, which start out as thin as wine and airy as risen flour and water, and give off the even thinner energy of light.

Communal thoughts

by Andrea Elizabeth

I hear that dwelling on Communion helps the mind transcend earthly cares. Creation as symbols as well as thankfulness spontaneously appear unbidden.

The silent world enables hymns of angels to occupy the mind. Prayer consists of the names and faces of others last remembered. May God have mercy on their souls.

Consciousness

by Andrea Elizabeth

In Orthodox meditation, one seeks to direct one’s mind toward God. One does this by using one’s mind as a tool or a muscle to descend into one’s heart where God and the cosmos dwells. The mind is a focusing agent to observe others. Asceticism is used to direct the mind away from onesself. My impression of Buddhist meditation is that not only is one directed away from onesself, one gives up on knowing God and the cosmos too. I believe Buddhists teach that there is a means to do this through contemplating nature, but nature isn’t the end either.

The passions are distractions that make one focus on one’s feelings and appetites. When these are mastered, with the help of redirecting thoughts through repetitive Liturgical prayer, one learns to train one’s mind on God. I say mind because it is the heart’s love which makes one choose to think on God over onesself. The Prayers and Readings inform the mind on who God is and what He has done and what He desires. It is important to get this right or one will become unbalanced and not be able to advance as far towards communion with Him. For example, if one believes that God hates the unelected, one’s heart will be too warped to attain likeness to God, and one will not see Him as He is.

The hard part is what to do with one’s sense of self. If one is denying self and focusing on God, where does that leave one? The purpose is to be filled with the energies of God, or uncreated grace. One delights in the Other. Delight is unselfconscious, but an awareness of enjoyment is entailed. When one focuses on the enjoyment, one can lose focus, similar to St. Peter’s looking down at the water and thus starting to sink. When one thinks of being in love, one is focused on the object of one’s affection, and can feel a sense of their presence in one’s heart. One can get lost in this feeling. Yet one is aware that they are happy. Through this experience we can see that thinking is accompanied by feeling.

Some ascetic practices require one to deny one’s feelings. One cannot always trust one’s feelings. We can desire wrong things, or be deceived as to the nature of these things. Even if one senses that one feels the presence of God, one can be wrong and should not completely trust these feelings. One can also sense the rightness of things that are taught about God. I suggest that ultimately we do have to trust some of these feelings or one will have to deny everything, which may be the Buddhist way.

If there is one way, as I believe there is, and that it is Orthodox (which includes physical communion, not just mental), then to me everyone should have this innate sense of rightness about it. Skipping over arguing this point, does that make everyone fundamentally the same and put this sense of feeling the rightness about Orthodoxy on the level of human nature? I think so. What about individualism? Why isn’t everyone Orthodox? Because they are denying themselves. Why would someone do that? They must hate themselves, or at least they are distracted from themselves. So to become Orthodox you must learn to love yourself and quit ignoring yourself. But isn’t Orthodoxy about denying yourself and taking up your cross? Yes, in order to find yourself in Christ. You have to love Him more. So losing yourself to Christ is the way to find yourself? Yes, because He wont let you disappear. You can let go of yourself if you trust Him to keep you.

How Orthodox Care for Babies

by Andrea Elizabeth

[edited to include the homily and an explanation of my title. I have also made the homily one of my “Pages” in the header.]

Please read about John’s relationship with Baby Jamie and his family here, and then read what several of us believe to be the best sermon we’ve ever heard: The homily at Jamie’s funeral, which explains how the Orthodox see infants as people capable of a relationship with God, and thus able to fully commune with Him in the Sacraments.

Let the Little Children Come Unto Me….

Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that in order to see the Kingdom of God, we have to become like little children, for the Kingdom is theirs. If you’ve been able to listen to the hymns we’ve been singing today for Jamie, it’s clear that as a little child, he is truly in a blessed place, and in a blessed state, right now. As one innocent and undefiled, as soon as his precious little soul left his body, he was instantly in the paradise of the Kingdom of Heaven with Jesus and all the choirs of angels and all the saints. We have had to wait in our sorrow for this day, to lay his body to rest. But he has not been waiting. He has already been dwelling in glory – the glory of being in the presence of our sweetest Jesus in paradise. We might wonder what it means to go to paradise as a baby. Does he stay a baby forever? How does that affect the way he knows God? We usually associate knowledge with maturity, and wisdom with age. Yet the Psalmist says that God makes the infants wise. We think that to know God we’ve got to be able to read, and think, to systematize our well reasoned beliefs, and speak with sophistication. Jamie is a little child. These things were not yet part of his life. We mourn all that he didn’t get to do, to see, to say, to know. But we cannot mourn about whether he knew or now knows the Living God. That much is certain. We baptized him at St. Barbara’s, and he was chrismated, receiving the Holy Spirit, and he received every Sunday the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, not because we thought that someday he might know Jesus Christ. We did those things because Jamie belonged to Jesus already, and already he knew God in an ineffable way, in a manner too deep for words. Our relationship with God doesn’t depend on the age or development of our brain. It depends on Him, our God, who formed us in the womb, Who knows and loves us perfectly, and Who knows the mysterious and painful path each of us must take. Jamie was just beginning to walk. But what is walking when in an instant he races to paradise – what is running when he can fly in the blessed realm. Jamie wasn’t speaking full words and sentences. But what is speech, when the language of the Kingdom is silence? What is knowledge, and thoughts, and feelings, when in stillness he gazes beyond time into the Face of the Ancient of Days, and beholds in His eyes a perfect communion of love, and in an instant he knows and understands all that really matters. He dwells now with the God Who Is. Our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And in Christ the veil separating us is much thinner than we would believe.

If we find ourselves asking why this happened, then we must face the only real answer God gives us: His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross, despised and rejected of men, giving His life for the Life of the world. God never explains away our pain, our sorrow, our suffering. He never dismisses them with “reasons”. He enters into our pain and suffering, and bids us follow. Deny yourself, and take up your cross, and follow me. This is the mysterious life of the Christian. This is the Way that seems foolish to the world. What we seek now, in this life, is not the end of our mourning. We should mourn. What we seek is the transformation of our mourning by the Grace of His Cross, where sorrow and joy coexist in us as they did in His Holy Mother, our Theotokos and Panagia, who in silent weeping watched her own son die that we may live – who let Him go His own painful route, so that He could do what He was sent by His Father to do. Our task after this shocking and tragic accident is to live each day by grace, to seek the face of our Lord in and through our suffering, for that is the only place He will be found. And to come to that place, at the foot of His cross, and in the bright and never ending Light of His resurrection, where the radiance of His joy and peace wells up through our sorrow singing Alleluia, and in humility and love we know that all is well.

To see the Kingdom of God, we must become children. Jamie is not less in the Kingdom of Heaven for being a child – he is infinitely more. We will miss him. We will mourn him. Let us also take comfort that, in him, as one pure and innocent, we have a new intercessor in the heavenly places, one who took each one of us whose faces, and voices, and touch he knew, kept in his heart and mind, to his God and our God; to the God who is with him, and the God Who is with us.

-Homily for James’ “Jamie” funeral. Delivered by Fr. John Mikita
on March 9, 2009 at St. John of Damascus Orthodox Church (Tyler, Texas)

The End of the Bulgakov Conference and Beyond

by Andrea Elizabeth

Speaking of finishing things, I’ve finally gotten around to reading the last two installments of the Bulgakov Conference on The Land of Unlikeness. I am not qualified to offer a detailed scholarly analysis, but I would like to jot down some impressions. When I initially read Joshua Delpech-Ramey’s report (see my previous posts under the Sergius Bulgakov Category to the right), I was thinking he was going in the right direction, and without reviewing why I thought that, I’ll go on to say that I think he veered off course in his latest post. I would have agreed more with him a year or two ago. He seems to speak of transcending our personhood into Absolute Divine Simplicity while simultaneously recovering the magic dormant in the created universe. And while my previous impression of Janet Leslie Blumberg was of Augustinian defensiveness, I found her to tweak Joshua’s point a bit to a more personalized, humbly Derridian (whom I am inclined to interpret gently), respect for the amazing cosmos, while maintaining her own personhood in a desire for union with God, but perhaps along a too deterministic path.

So my ignorant, less informed view which is probably based on misinterpretation, is that they are right to open themselves to union with God which will lead to transcending fallen humanity, but their method seems to be alchemistic – seeking to combine physical properties in the right combination to do this. Maybe Janet redeems the goal by saying it should be done by embracing tradition rather than leaving it behind, and I am not sure if she is talking about Credal Christian tradition only, or Sacramental Tradition, which is how we find God in the elements. And maybe her determinism is about uncovering the logos in everything, which is predetermined in Christ, rather than the over-riding of free will.

And as I brought out at the end of my last post on the Conference, I am becoming more sensitive to the off-balanced method of putting the ideas “transcendence”, “Cosmic union”, “latent power” before Person. We are not to throw ourselves into the abyss of ideas expecting an explosion of power and awareness (gnosticism), though perhaps I am neglecting a proper understanding of apophaticism. Instead we are to focus on the Person of Christ, and how He reveals Himself and ourselves to us. I have enjoyed the positive attitude conveyed in works like the above, and think there is merit to it. We are to be joined to love and awareness, but I am beginning to think it will be more concrete than how it came across. I’m thinking a hierarchy of God in Trinitarian relation (which Bulgakov has some valuable things to say about), repentant man, the powers, and material creation will keep us from going off the deep end.

Which brings me to the latest post, Revolution, Paradox, and the Christian Tradition: A Chestertonian debate between John Milbank and Slavoj Zizek, which may make the corrections, or maybe just clarifications, I have begun to intuit. I also value the scholarship in the above posts as I am coming to appreciate reading a wide range of bright people, even if we don’t have the same order of idealogical priorities. I also find their dispassionate and calm relating of atheists’ points very refreshing.

The Consecration of Bishop Jonah

by Andrea Elizabeth

Yesterday was filled with grace, despite the fact that my back was quite aware that the ordinations of a Reader, a Subdeacon Monk, a Priest, and the consecration of a Bishop took three and a half hours. Healing love was released through the service of which I was most aware when its special touch embraced me personally. From sweet, uninhibited friends, by being blessed by the ecstatic, newly consecrated Bishop Jonah who said during the homily, “those who don’t believe that ordination is a Sacrament have never received it. Of course it’s still fresh on me.” And most blessed love, from a priest I do not know, who served me Communion with a face and voice that seemed to say, “What sins? Welcome.” Blessed be the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.

Bishop Jonah’s emphasis seems to be on filling that which is lacking, as Father Stephen also brought out today. I am sure that like varnish, many coats need to be applied by repeating the Sacraments throughout one’s life to make up for the damage of past and present sins and temptations. What a blessing that God has provided these healing measures.

It was also a special opportunity to be in the presence of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas and the South, Locum Tenens of the Metropolitan See, Bishop Tikhon of Philadephia and Eastern Pennsylvania, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West, and Bishop Alejo of Mexico City and the Exarchate of Mexico, as well as Father John Behr, the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, also pictured above. I spent most of the time after the service reconnecting with friends and George’s sponsor from far distances, so I didn’t mingle that much or meet Mimi’s priest, unfortunately. I don’t see him in this picture of the clergy, but George said he thinks he saw him during the service.

Sorry for the blurriness. Hopefully better pictures will circulate on the net soon.

The Holy Spirit’s role in deification

by Andrea Elizabeth

The second half of The Comforter and Divine-Humanity is about God’s union with creation. Here’s a sample,

The Holy SpiritТs Kenosis for us: Sanctification in Creation and Inspiration for Divine-Humanity

The kenosis of the Holy Spirit in the immanent Trinity, her becoming copula of the Father and the Son, their hypostatic Love, is paralleled in the created realm: the SpiritТs sophianic sanctification of the world, and her personal descent in creation for the inspiration of humanityЧto become copula that binds in love all human relationships in the self-offering love of friendship. Thus from the beginning of creation the Holy Spirit is the Artist, the Giver of life, bathing creation in beauty; but in the fullness of time, in the Christ event, the Holy Spirit accompanies the descent of the Son and is poured on all flesh (Acts 2:17). In turn, the apex of time of the earthly ministry of Jesus becomes a special moment for the labor of the Spirit in creation: a personal labor, but shrouded in a special hiddenness. Each of these three kenotic moments of the Spirit in creationЧsince the beginning of time, in the life of the man Jesus, and in PentecostЧwill be pondered in turn.

And this goes with my byline quite nicely,

a. The Sophianic action of the Holy Spirit

That matter is energy and energy is matter is one of the greatest scientific discoveries of our times. It also retells the story in contemporary language of how GodТs Ruah swept over Уnothing,Ф over tohu-bohu, birthing Уlife.Ф The inherent УpotentialityФ or energy created by the Father is breathed upon, preparing УnothingФ to receive its form, to be molded into matter, to become the rich diversity that mirrors the beauty of God. In the Spirit, matter becomes, evolves, is crafted, according to its design given by the Logos. Breath is the energy inherent in matter, Уexist[ing] in the very flesh of the world, in the matter of the world,Ф[73] enabling it with the dynamism to gradually become Уsomething,Ф beauty, the rich diversity of creatures. The Spirit who fulfills, who completes, empties herself in an ongoing sophianic action towards creationТs fulfilment, towards creationТs completion, but that requires the very participation of creation according to its particular freedom or УmeasureФ: УThis multistage or gradual character of being is proper to the life of the world, for the creative Сlet there beТ always resounds in the world in its different forms; creation is always the future too, not only nata, but also natura[74] Not only the apparent, but also the imaginedЧsince the transcendence of this divine imagination is the telos of creation; its becoming not only natura, but supranatura, the resplendence of God.

The sanctification of matter is then explained, and I want to quote the whole thing, but will commend the link instead. This is what I’ve been looking for. I’m reminded of the “what happens” in St. Maximus, but this seems to be the “how”.

There occurs a mysterious, i.e. invisible, transfiguration of creation, in which the latter, while ontologically remaining itself, becomes transparent for the Spirit, receives the faculty of communion with God, is deified.

If I’m understanding Bulgakov rightly, the personified Sophia is sort of like the Derridian ‘membrane’ where Spirit meets creation. But this membrane is transparent, or at least becomes so upon deification/union with God, whereas Derrida’s remains opaque, or when breached still remains other, whose brightness is beheld from a distance. And Derrida is talking about creature to creature, with Truth as a silent, though bright witness. But Bulgakov is talking about the inherent Spirit in creation, who is indeed everywhere present and fills all things. Creation becomes transparent through being sanctified in the Church, so until that happens, I think perhaps Derrida may be disappointed, and if not, is he in prelest? Non-Christians can appreciate the glory of nature, but they probably are in danger of becoming Pantheists. Still, I’d take a Pantheist over a Gnostic. I think. I don’t know, praise God that I don’t have to choose, but I hope the Pantheists help clean up the smog in the Grand Canyon.

Pre-Lenten Retreat

by Andrea Elizabeth

(links corrected)

Saturday morning all eight of us got up early and took the van to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas to attend a Pre-Lenten Retreat which nourished us with breakfast and lunch, Orthodox Trinitarian Theology presented by Dr. Christopher Veniamin, Professor of Patristics at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and monastic wisdom from Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou, as John (who I had the joy of meeting in person!) from Notes From a Common-Place Book said, is the Spiritual Child of Elder Sophrony, the Spiritual Child of St. Silouan. I also got to touch base with our dear friend, Eric (Jacob), Priests and other friends from St. Seraphim Cathedral and different parishes in the North Texas area, as well as some from our own parish, St. Barbara’s, like David Bryan, Audra and their Katie, Charles, Brad, Rex, Marilyn and William.

I took detailed notes of the two lectures and question and answer sessions because my memory has gotten hazy. But now I forgot where I put them so I’ll have to hurry and write down what I do remember so’s not to loose the entire thing. Not that permanent seeds weren’t planted, or changes made even if I don’t recall them.

Professor Veniamin spoke on St. Gregory Palamas and his Sunday during Great Lent. He said St. Gregory had a vision of milk overflowing and turning into wine which had a beautiful fragrance. The angel said the he needed to share this wine and not keep it to himself, like the parable of the talents. I forget what exactly he said the milk and wine represented. I believe he also talked on hesychasm as the way to salvation.

Elder Zacharias said that the three things Orthodox Christians need to focus on more than any other in order to be strengthened and energized are:

1. The Liturgy,

2. The Name of Christ,

3. The Word of Christ

I really wish I had my notes! He explained them in opposite order, but the priorities are as listed. He said that when we read the Bible we need to let the words inform us of His commandments so that we can become one with them and in being conformed by them, we attain godliness and then God will be present with us. That each word is like a stone, building us in the image of God as well as enlarging our hearts.

The name of Christ is called upon in the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. He said Elder Sophrony used to say that the reason we repeat it so many times is because we don’t know it yet. In it we confess who God is and who we are. This also enlarges our heart so that the Holy Spirit can fill us with His energy. He used the word energy a lot, and he indeed sparkled with it.

Then he said that in the Liturgy we make the great exchange. When we make the bread we are to pray for everyone in our hearts, and it comes to represent all that we are and have. Our very best. During the Liturgy we lift it all up to be exchanged for all that Christ is, and slowly, little by little we attain His fullness. This is why it is important to maintain the Liturgy our whole lives. We benefit the world when we lift it up to be exchanged. This counterbalances the effect of the world on us. He said that each generation has gotten weaker in that our predecessors attained greater heights of spiritual feats like raising the dead, and that each successive generation is half as good as the one preceding it. I think this was a humble way of comparing himself to Elder Sophrony and St. Silouan. Anyway, in the last days the greatest spiritual feat will be to keep the faith in the Liturgy.

All three of the ways of increasing God’s presence in the world were very encouraging, motivating and inspirational to me to feel that our prayers, readings, and Liturgy are all effective ways of increasing mercy and grace in ourselves and the world. Sometimes I get discouraged by our small numbers. Our parish is right next door to a Pentacostal mega-church. I have been discouraged by the disparity of numbers before, but in actuality, this disparity has not defeated us. We still have cars in the parking lot every Sunday and that is a victory for the world.

I believe both speakers mentioned the presentation of the Theotokos to the temple and how she realized her connection with creation and God. They are united in her. Elder Zacharias said that one day she was reading Isaiah’s “behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son”, and began repeating it enthusiastically and prayed, ‘may I be her handmaiden’. It was then that the angel Gabriel came to her to give her the good news.

Thankfully they recorded the lectures, and I believe the DVD’s will be available in a few weeks. Check North Texas Orthodox Missions for more details.

If anyone can add to or correct what I’ve written above, please feel free.

“On the Grace of Holy Baptism”

by Andrea Elizabeth

Ad Thalassium 6

“Q. If, as St. John says, he who is born of God does not sin, because his seed dwells in God, and he cannot sin (1 Jn 3:9), and yet he who is born of water and Spirit is himself born of God (Jn 3:5-6), then how are we who are born of God through baptism still able to sin?

R. The manner of birth from God within us is two-fold: the one bestows the grace of adoption, which is entirely present in potency in those who are born of God; the other introduces, wholly by active exertion, that grace which deliberately reorients the entire free choice of the one being born of God toward the God who gives birth. [notes: Maximus’s “realized eschatology” informs his whole understanding of the “potentiality” and “actuality” of the grace of deification. The full fruition of the grace of adoption is already present, at least potentially, in the believer, before it becomes actually operative in the spiritual life.] The first bears the grace, present in potency, through faith alone; but the second, beyond faith, also engenders in the knower the sublimely divine likeness of the One known, that likeness being effected precisely through knowledge. Therefore the first manner of birth is observed in some because their will, not yet fully detached from its propensity to the flesh, has yet to be wholly endowed with the Spirit by participation in the divine mysteries that are made known through active endeavor. The inclination to sin does not disappear as long as they will it. For the Spirit does not give birth to an unwilling will, but converts the willing will toward deification. Whoever has participated in this deification through cognizant experience is incapable of reverting from right discernment in truth, once he has achieved this in action, to something else besides, which only pretends to be that same discernment. It is like the eye which, once it has looked upon the sun, cannot mistake it for the moon or any of the other stars in the heavens. With those undergoing the (second mode of ) birth, the Holy Spirit takes the whole of their free choice and translates it completely from earth to heaven, and, through the true knowledge acquired by exertion, transfigures the mind with the blessed light-rays of our God and Father, such that the mind is deemed another “god,” insofar as in its habitude it experiences, by grace, that which God himself does not experience but “is” in his very essence. With those undergoing this second mode of baptism, their free choice clearly becomes sinless in virtue and knowledge, as they are unable to negate what they have actively discerned through experience. So even if we have the Spirit of adoption, who is himself the Seed for enduing those begotten (through baptism) with the likeness of the Sower, but do not present him with a will cleansed of any inclination or disposition to something else, we therefore, even after being born of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5), willingly sin. But were we to prepare our will with knowledge to receive the operation of these agents-water and Spirit, I mean – then the mystical water would, through our practical life, cleanse our conscience, and the life-giving Spirit would bring about unchanging perfection for the good in us through knowledge acquired in experience. Precisely for that reason he leaves, to each of us who are still able to sin, the sheer desire to surrender our whole selves willingly to the Spirit.”

More on good(?) alternatives (pre-writing title, but I don’t want to change it now that I’m finished)

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m not going back on what I’ve just said. I don’t want to pursue combatibalist and incombatibalist libertarianism scientifically right now – too cold. Instead I would like to assume free will as a given. And theologically, until we reach rest in theosis, we have a gnomic will that does not know all the consequences to our decisions so we deliberate. But in prayer we can be directed beyond our predictive capabilities. For me though, thinking out loud here on my blog is a way to prayerfully deliberate and hopefully God will direct me to the right answer. Maybe He directs some people with a logical train of thought. I seem to need concrete direction that makes sense. However, blind faith in Orthodoxy, because she has already logically proven herself to me in enough areas, is the only thing that makes sense to me now, and so when I’m unclear on anything, what the Church has proclaimed is a given.

Here’s one thing I’m deliberating with my gnomic will. Whether to keep running or to let sadness catch up with me. Well in phrasing it that way, it sounds like I’ve already decided that I’m ready to quit running. I think I’ve been running since I was 12 years old. Before that it was different. I had a fictional happy place that I freely dwelt in – horse world. Many things happened when I was 12 that made me give up that happy place and try to find another one. I simultaneously sought Christ, romance, and missionary zeal, but I only got fleeting glimpses and brush encounters with happiness, rest, peace, and joy in any of those. Motherhood brought an anchor to my life and a stable, tangible reality for a physical reason to be. But that is not all that I am. Intellectually and romantically I have been on a quest. I know the second needs clarification, and it is much more complex, but first let me get intellectualism out of the way. I am made (or I have chosen) so that for me to trust, I have to understand with my brain to a certain degree. This blog has so far been a pursuit of that intellectual understanding, and now that I feel at peace with free will until someone like Perry Robinson shows me that I still have Calvinist hang-ups in a new area, I’m putting that to rest. I have to know the how and why of my heart pursuits since I failed so miserably up to my divorce. Then I learned that I could not trust my heart to lead me to ever-lasting rest. It was too ill/wounded/selfish/ignorant. So my head took over. My faith, childrearing, and marital pursuits became very intellectual – I decided to make the smart, practical choice. So I guess I need to explain my romantic intellectual quest. I decided a peaceful husband who loved me was the only way to a stable life for me and my kids. I was right. Marrying and staying with George was and is the smartest decision I’ve ever made. My brain is more trustworthy than my unhealthy heart. (edit: except for finding Orthodoxy, but I was already married and with kids at that point or I might have become monastic if I’d found it earlier)

But my heart will not leave me alone. It has been stuck in a romantic dream which may be an escape from letting itself feel empty, no, more accurately, alone. The unhealthy relationships I’ve let myself get lost in, and which have come back to bite me, have been with people like me – lost in an unrealistic, romantic dream, probably escaping facing their loneliness. My working theory is that we felt alone, unsupported, ununderstood, invisible and rejected as children for whatever reason. We were missing some sort of attachment, probably with our parents, and probably identify with orphans, and wonder why. We do not want to accept that we are orphans who have grown up alone, and that it has irreparably shaped us into only knowing how to be alone and not with others. So when we do sense a “kindred spirit” it is with another detached soul who does not know how to properly bond. Yet we are also attracted to monastic life. Perhaps we have been raised to be hermits but do not want to accept it so we keep trying to have relationships, but they never really fulfill expectations – secure, fulfilling, comforting peace with another. I think it’s like those orphans we hear about in Romania who were never held as children and never learn to love, who end up autistically rocking themselves. I sucked my thumb until I was 12 years old and couldn’t because I was in the hospital for a month where nurses could see and the IV in my untractioned arm was another detriment. Our bonding deficit was not exactly like that (the Romanian orphans), but detachment still prevails. I would imagine though that these Romanian orphans recognize each other and feel kindred with each other, but if they tried to form a family with each other, they would be too “ill” to make it a healthy relationship and would instead form some sort of criminal gang in order to survive. But I do not believe there is no hope for such as we. Monasticism is an answer, because God was with us all along. We know how to be alone with him, but we have to reconcile with our past in order to let others go. We have to forgive them for not meeting our needs and for making us have an unfulfilling habit of detachment, or unhealthy relationships, in order to survive. So it was God and us alone all this time, and so we had to develop skills, usually intellectual skills, to survive. We are over-achievers. Thus we are impatient with those who may have had it easier and aren’t in so much pain, don’t understand, or who chose other comfort measures like prostitution, drugs, crime, and other easy ways out, perhaps suicide. I think the psychological world calls us ‘addictive personalities’.

I think many monastics, like Elder Porphyrios, do have this background, and they find Sainthood in their relationship with God in the Orthodox Tradition with the communion of the passed-on who do totally understand us and therapeutically and lovingly intercede for us. They actively watch us through their icons and we know through them that we are not alone. Others of us still seek earthly relationship to ease our loneliness and, perhaps after failing with another unattachable, find someone who knows how to lovingly bond with another. Sorry for the generalities, but it helps me to say we, as I don’t want to feel alone in this, and I really think there are others like me, perhaps who read my blog, who have coped similarly to me. So this person, like George, who did trust and found fulfilling the love of another in his formative years, did not struggle in exactly the same way, but is able to love me. Yet since he did have this love, he did not have to grow in as many other ways. I know this is an over-simplification. Perhaps he didn’t want to face this unfulfilment so he accepted and trusted a substitute, romantic love. No person short of a Saint can love as they should, but there does seem to be a line where some can love so that their kids aren’t in such pain and so desperately seeking a way to cope in trying to find substitutes in other people who cannot, for whatever reason, adopt them satisfactorily.

So this lingering pain in unfulfillment or engrossment in substitutions – the intellectual world, romance novels, food, or other wrongly-focused relationships or substances, has to be given to God. But we can’t be left with an empty hole. This is why I cling so hard to and defend so fiercely the Orthodox Church. I need a physical body to make up for the hole I have for whatever reason. A husband cannot fulfill this more fundamental need. This is also why I believe Protestant, “Spiritual God Alone”-Gnosticism, to be so evil. Maybe they don’t have this need to not be alone because they have fulfilling family of origin relationships and don’t feel like orphans. Or maybe they have closed off their hearts so that they wont feel the pain and have substituted an irrational emotional high with God. I don’t know, but when someone condemns the Orthodox Church who makes me feel with my heart and think with my mind consistently and stably “In Communion” for the first time in my life, though I still struggle to go to her alone like the Monastics do, I feel like they are trying to cut me off from my only food source, without which I would die. No man is an island, though plenty of Orthodox monasteries are built on islands. Not without physical icons and the physical Body and Blood of Christ though. Every hermit monk I’ve ever read about has at least one icon in his cell. We are not meant to live alone.