Despre cuvintele care mă definesc

father-stephen-a-man-of-dignity

Cititorii constanţi ai blogului nostru observă, cu uşurinţă, că noi repetăm anumite idei, gânduri personale, crezuri… Unii dintre păstoriţii mei spun, şi mai mult, că eu am o singură predică şi că, blogul, în esenţă, ar fi o singură predică

Însă, gândindu-mă, aprofundând anumite cuvinte şi gânduri proprii mi-am dat seama că ele sunt importante pentru mine cum sunt şi pentru ei. Şi unul dintre ele, primul cuvânt care îmi vine în minte este acela de deplinătate / plinătate [fullness], pe care eu îl combin cu un alt cuplu semantic şi anume cu micşorare [smallness] şi cu deşertare [emptiness].

Un alt cuplet lingvistic care mi-e îmi este la inimă este cuplul: a cunoaşte [to know] şi taina [mystery]. Un alt set de cuvinte, al treilea, este acela care se leagă de existenţă şi de non-existenţă [fiindcă Dumnezeu pe toate le-a adus de la nefiinţă la fiinţă, cum se spune adesea în rugăciunile noastre liturgice ortodoxe n.n.].

Toate aceste cuvinte enumerate aici sunt cuvinte teologice şi aceste cuvinte fac parte din limbajul meu teologic, care nu surprinde pe nimeni. Ceea ce mă interesează pe mine însă este ca aceste cuvinte să devină locuri comune ale gândirii celor ce mă ascultă şi, inevitabil, să devină locuri comune şi ale modului în care ei îşi mărturisesc credinţa lor ortodoxă.

Pentru mine plinătate e un cuvânt uluitor de frumos şi, deopotrivă, e un cuvânt scriptural dar şi patristic. El poartă un înţeles rar, netraductibil. Şi, spre exemplu, prefer să vorbesc în termenii Ortodoxiei mele şi să îmi văd credinţa mea ca „plinătate a adevărului” [fullness of truth], mai degrabă decât să spun acest lucru prin expresia: „Biserica Ortodoxă este adevărata Biserică” a lui Dumnezeu.

Şi când spun asta nu o fac din motivaţii pur lingvistice, ci folosind sintagma  ca atare, vreau să subliniez prin ea ceva despre natura adevărului care sălăşluieşte în Biserică. Fiindcă Biserica nu posedă adevărul ca pe un gând adevărat, care să fie dezbătut silogistic şi memorat ca atare, ci ea sălăşluieşte/ viază/ respiră/ trăieşte în deplinătatea adevărului.

Astfel, în Biserica Ortodoxă tu poţi trăi întru deplinătatea adevărului, dar nu poţi gândi, aşa, în mod simplist / prin reducţie plinătatea adevărului. [ Nu poţi epuiza la nivel mintal cunoaşterea adevărului sau nu poţi confunda experienţa duhovnicească cu însuşirea, exclusivă, a cunoştinţei teologice scriptice n.n.] Şi asta pentru că Ortodoxia nu este un argument [ raţional. Nu este o credinţă exclusiv raţională, ci experienţa teologică angajează întreaga noastră fiinţă n.n.].

Când spunem plinătate [fullness] spunem, într-un mod admirabil: „tot adevărul”. Şi aici, în această sintagmă noi spunem ceva mai multe decât se poate cuprinde în cuvinte…Fiindcă realitatea deplinătăţii adevărului depăşeşte cuvintele, şi, ne găsim în acest caz, în situaţia de a nu avea cuvinte ca să exprimăm o asemenea realitate copleşitoare, [realitate ce ţine de esenţa Bisericii n.n.].

Cuvântul S-a făcut trup şi S-a sălăşluit/ a locuit între noi [The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.]. Cuvântul nu S-a făcut o carte, pentru ca, aşa, ca o carte, să fie printre noi, să locuiască cu noi şi de aceea nici nu putem să vedem Scriptura, ca şi cuvânt a lui Dumnezeu, ca ceva care poate să Îl înlocuie pe Hristos, Care este Cuvântul lui Dumnezeu.

Noi, ortodocşii, nu suntem „popor al cărţii” [ ca evreii, mahomedanii, protestanţii sau neoprotestanţii de diverse nuanţe n.n.]. În Acatistul Maicii Domnului noi cântăm – şi o ştiţi cu toţii – că „filosofii cei păgâni s-au făcut ca nişte peşti fără de glas” în faţa minunii naşterii Domnului de către Stăpâna lumii, de către Fecioara Maria.

O, mare şi minunat eşti Tu, Doamne, Iubitorule de oameni şi niciun cuvânt nu e de ajuns ca să spună toate minunile Tale !

Dar, întorcându-ne la cuvintele definitorii pentru exprimarea credinţei mele, în relaţie cu plinătate stau micşorare şi deşertare. Aceasta e marea taină a mântuirii noastre, că Însăşi Plinătatea S-a deşertat pe Sine şi S-a făcut om. Unul dintre cele mai adânci aspecte ale iubirii lui Dumnezeu este acela că El a voit să Se deşerte pe Sine, să se facă mic, de dorul celor pe care El îi iubeşte nespus de mult.

Şi acest lucru, cu adevărat, e ceea ce defineşte, reala, autentica, deplina dragoste. Dragostea ne conduce să înţelegem faptul, că pentru a avea deplinătatea vieţii în fiinţa noastră, noi trebuie să dorim să ne deşertăm pe noi înşine în mod deplin. Iar taina profundă a rugăciunii constă în aceea de a găsi plinătatea deşertării de sine.

Nu are o mai mică importanţă în fiinţa mea nici cupletul : a cunoaşte şi taină. În scrierile şi predicile mele relaţia dintre cele două cuvinte abia enunţate merge pe filieră biblică şi patristică, fără a fi înţelese raţional şi într-o logică îngustă, cum e moda acum în cultura noastră.

În învăţăturile Bisericii, adică în crezuri şi dogme, noi nu găsim adevărul eshaustivat, explicat la centimă, spus pe larg, ci, dimpotrivă, crezurile şi dogmele ortodoxe sunt limitele de demarcaţie ale adevărului. Ele ne indică adevărul dar nu-l epuizează, nu îl explică fără rest.

Căci iată ce găsim aici, printre altele : „Hristos este Fiul Cel Unul Născut al Tatălui”. Această afirmaţie teologică este cu totul corectă şi nu intră în contradicţie cu învăţătura de credinţă. Însă Părinţii păstrează tăcerea/ tac cu desăvârşire când vine vorba de modul în care Fiul este Unul Născut al Tatălui şi spun că acest lucru e mai presus de orice înţelegere. Însă expresia „mai presus de orice înţelegere” nu ne spune numai că noi nu putem cunoaşte acest amănunt, ci ne specifică şi faptul că cunoaşterea e o formă a tainei, adică cunoaşterea îmbracă şi forma de-ne-grăitului.

Adesea pun această înţelegere ca graniţe ale Părinţilor şi îi îndemn pe cei care citesc pe Părinţi şi Scriptura să înţeleagă faptul, că nu numai Dumnezeu este o taină, ci toţi care suntem creaţi de către El suntem izvor de taină. Şi aceasta o observăm de fiecare dată când ne apropiem de cineva, de un copac sau de frunza ierbii.

Şi când spun aceasta nu vreau să neg eforturile ştiinţifice, ci încerc să întorc ştiinţa/ actul ştiinţific la maniera proprie de cunoaştere. Fiindcă ştiinţa nu este regina cunoaşterii ci o simplă formă folositoare de cunoaştere.

Noi putem să studiem lucrurile şi să le cunoaştem în diverse moduri şi dimensiuni ale lor dar prin aceasta nu ajungem la o cunoaştere în sine a lucrurilor. Şi iarăşi, prin această afirmaţie nu neg faptul că lucrurile pot fi cunoscute la o anumită adâncime a lor, ci vreau să spun că această cunoaştere e o cunoaştere în manieră ştiinţifică şi nimic mai mult. Ştiinţa nu poate exprima şi nici nu poate înţelege modul în care „vânturile şi mările se supun” glasului Fiului lui Dumnezeu.

Am scris, de asemenea, şi am vorbit frecvent despre existenţă şi non-existenţă. Şi când am vorbit despre a fi şi a nu fi m-am bazat îndeosebi pe scrierile Sfântului Atanasie cel Mare. O influenţă majoră asupra mea are şi M. Dostoievski.

De aceea, pentru mine, neputinţele umanităţii şi ale creaţiei în ansamblu îmi arată ce suntem noi şi creaţia în general. Noi şovăim în faţa prăpastiei nonexistenţei.  Nu suntem stabili şi neschimbători  şi nici lumea  nu e. De aceea nu avem ceva stabil/ ferm pe care să ne fundamentăm gândirea.

Ceva din acest mod de a vedea lucrurile are racordare cu o seamă de experienţe din copilăria mea, provocate de moartea grabnică a unor membrii iubiţi din familia mea sau  a unora dintre prietenii mei. De aceea, la numai 10 ani eu ştiam deja ce e aceea o „criză existenţială”. Fragilitatea existenţei noastre am trăit-o, de atunci, ca pe ceva ce ne e dat să trăim.

Apoi, personal, am fost părtaş la moartea a sute de oameni, pe când eram capelan al unui spital. Atunci am înţeles la modul deplin real că „ pământ suntem şi în ţărână ne reîntoarcem”.

Poate că aceasta a fost şi raţiunea pentru care Sfântul Atanasie cel Mare a scris despre „Întruparea Cuvântului”. El descrie mântuirea noastră în termenii fiinţei altoite întru Hristos şi ai dăruirii unui fel de a trăi/ de a vieţui, care nu ne era propriu prin natură. Prin natura noastră noi suntem doar fiinţe create, a căror existenţă este din nimic. Fără darul lui Dumnezeu noi ne întoarcem la natura noastră, adică intrăm în non-existenţă, în nefiinţă. Însă, cu harul lui Dumnezeu, noi suntem păstraţi în viaţă şi îndemnaţi să trăim adevărata viaţă întru El.

Din acest motiv, cea mai adâncă problemă a inimii noastre nu e cum să moştenesc cerul? ci cum să fac să nu îmi curm existenţa? Răspunsul nostru în Hristos e mai presus nu numai de existenţă, ci este o viaţă mai presus de orice imaginaţie. Şi, mă mir că ea, această problemă, nu e o problemă a tuturora.

Fără îndoială că nu am terminat de înşirat cuvintele mele definitorii. Voi, care mă citiţi regular, veţi  mai afla şi altele. Sperăm ca ele să fie folositoare şi pentru alţii, pentru cât mai mulţi. Şi, ceea ce scriu, scriu cu responsabilitatea a ceea ce cunosc.

Însă acum, intrând în noul an, în 2009, mă rog lui Dumnezeu ca să nu Îşi oprească mila Sa faţă de noi. Am fost şi sunt binecuvântat cu comentarii şi probleme interesante ridicate din partea cititorilor mei. În scurt timp va debuta un proiect, în limba română, de traducere zilnică a blogului nostru de către un grup de studenţi din Bucureşti. Nu am fost niciodată mai onorat ca la auzul acestei veşti.

Există traducători generoşi ai articolelor noastre deopotrivă în România, Rusia, Franţa, Serbia, Macedonia şi în alte părţi ale lumii. Motorul meu de monitorizare, după steagurile naţionale, ale celor care mă vizitează îmi spune că avem vizitatori din peste 140 de ţări, printre ele intrând şi Vaticanul, cu două intrări pe blog.

Asta înseamnă că împărţim o viaţă în comun şi, mai ales, o foame reală de plinătatea cunoaşterii lui Iisus Hristos, care ne face să ne adâncim viaţa pe căile adevăratei existenţe. Slavă lui Dumnezeu pentru cele pe care le trăim!

Cf. sursa.

The Last Four Articles as Palmer in Holy Land Written by Father Stephen Freeman

15 September 2008

I have been away from computer access the last few days here in Nazareth. Yesterday we were in Cana, Capernaum, the Sea of Gallilee and the Jordan. Today we go to the Mount of Transfiguration and Qumran and return to Jerusalem. My heart overflows with many things, some of which I will share soon. Thank you all for your continued prayers. We are daily blessed.

Cf. source.

Idem day

One of the common aspects of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land – and this my wife and I have discussed and find we share in common – is the particularity of certain experiences. There are inherently overwhelming experiences, such as kneeling beside a priest in the actual sepulchre of Christ, and reading names aloud for him to remember in the proskomidie, as he prepared the bread and wine for the Divine Liturgy.

(For the non-Orthodox reader, the proskomedie is a service done prior to every Eucharist in which the bread and wine are prepared. The priest puts a particle of bread on the paten for every name of the living and departed being remembered that day in the service – in some settings the service of preparation –proskomidie – can take as long as the liturgy itself.)

But I would have to say that it was that particular experience which stood out for me from the larger context of that night’s Divine Liturgy. It was not that anything else was less important – indeed everything was inherently overwhelming – but that a particular moment was the vehicle in which my heart was pierced and I became aware of the encounter with God.

I have written at other times about the difference between particularity and the general and that it is in the particular that we, in fact, encounter God. My pilgrimage has only served to underscore that understanding within me.

I also had an experience which underscored the negative side of this insight. The general – especially when it is an presented in an abstract form – makes an actual encounter with reality and truth difficult, perhaps impossible. This has largely been brought home to me through my experience of art in the Holy Land. Not all shrines in this land are under Orthodox control, nor governed by an Orthodox understanding of iconography. In some cases (not all) I have seen Christ, the saints, and the particular reality that each represents, abstracted to something general and universal, and thus an ideation that is more imagination than a presentation of the truth.

The doctrine and Tradition of the Holy Icons, understands them to be as particular as Scripture itself. An icon does not say something in general, but, within the rules of its artistic grammar, says something or makes present something that is exceedingly real, describeable and particular. An icon of Christ is particularly an icon of Christ and not an abstraction of Christ nor an ideation of Christ. It is an image of “He Who Is,” which is clearly written on every icon of Christ (usually in Greek or Slavonic abbreviation).

The entire experience of pilgrimage would make no sense were the reality we seek a generality and not something quite particular. It is thus that as the Patriarchs of the Old Testament encountered God that they gave place names to mark the encounter. Whole towns in this land bear names that were given over 3,000 years ago, by men who encountered God in a way that changed their life – changed this land – changed history – and continues its impact into the present.

Israel did not proclaim a faith in an abstracted God, but in the “God of our Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” The Christian claim is that it is this God of Israel and no other Who is incarnate as the God/Man, Christ Jesus.

The character of my pilgrimage is marked by very particular stories – particular places – particular people – a particular phrase that is spoken. It has been marked by an extraordinary hospitality, where I found myself called forward and into the altar of the House of God, to take my share as a priest with other Orthodox priests.

I have now shared in services here in Greek, Slavonic and Arabic, with the gracious allowance of my small contribution of English. We celebrated the Liturgy on Sunday in Nazareth, in the local Orthodox Church which marks the site of the well where Mary first encountered the angel Gabriel (it is St. Gabriel’s Church). The account of this first encounter is in the Protoevangelium of James (a book outside the canon of Scripture but often accepted as containing much of value within the Tradition of the faith). St. Gabriel’s community in Nazareth consists almost entirely of Arab Christians who have been in this land from very early times. The congregational participation was amazing! I do not think I have ever heard an Orthodox liturgy that was as loud! The sense of enthusiasm that filled the whole of the service was quite unique.

It will not be forgotten. Neither will a chance conversation with a group of Orthodox youth from across this part of the Mid-East who were also having a retreat in Nazareth that weekend. They had many political questions to put to this American priest – for which I had little answer. It is hard to tell them that the powers that be have almost no concept of Orthodox Christianity – its history – its current vitality – or its interests. These were youth in dismay. May God help them in the difficulties they face.

The particular character of this pilgrimage is already creating “favorite” places in my heart – places I hope to see again before the week is out and we return home. What I rest in, is the assurance that wherever I am, God will make Himself known in particular ways – at home as well as in the Holy Land. It does not make pilgrimage a useless event – but rather says that we are always on pilgrimage – looking for the “heart’s true home.” And that home will always come to us in ways that can be tasted, smelled, touched, remembered, but not abstracted.

Glory to God. I pray for you all with each day.

Cf. source.

16 September 2008

Today, walking and weaving our way through the streets of Old Jerusalem, shops on each side of the alley, the smells of a rich mixture of spices and a thousand other things, shop-keepers calling with eagerness to the “foreigners” passing by – we were on a free morning, and there were gifts to be found.

We came across another pilgrim, separate from our group, who took us to a greater gift. In the environs of the Holy Sepulchre Church, there are two small chapels that are used for the local Arab Christian congregation. That chapel’s treasure is quietly situated in a corner of the rear of the Church.

No sign announces its presence. It is an icon of the Mother of God – indeed – the icon which hung at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that spoke to St. Mary of Egypt, when, as a young harlot, she was unable to cross the threshhold of the Church. That moment led to her conversion and her immediate entrance into the trans-Jordan desert.

Everything here, things that have filled the stories of Scripture and the lives of the saints who have populated this area, are amazingly proximate. Nothing is a terribly great distance. The desert is only a hill away from Jerusalem.

But winding through alley ways and shops, we found the Icon of the Mother of God through which God showed mercy on Mary of Egypt. It stood at the border of the grace of God. God’s grace, of course, has no border, except the stoney heart that refuses Him hospitality. But He knocks on that stoney door with great persistence.

I knelt before the icon and prayed for our stoney hearts – the many places in our lives that have created borders for grace. St. Mary of Egypt pray to God for us!

Cf. source.

Idem day

I have stated – not tongue in cheek – that “I am an ignorant man,” and I have also added that “I am a man still in need of a Savior.” These things do not change on a pilgrimage but become only clearer. The most difficult of all pilgrimages is the pilgrimage to the heart and finding there, not only the treasuries of paradise, but also all the garbage stuffed there over the decades. At times I am a fool, and like the childish boy who sat in the front of class. Other times – well – there are other times.

The Great Pilgrimage is our journey from glory to glory into the image of Christ and this is marked by sin and confession, forgiveness and the restoration that is the Father’s great mercy.

The strange politics of the Holy Land, marked by Jew, Palestinian Arab and Christian, Druze, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox are not merely the left-overs of history the flotsam and jetsam of a land that has had too much religion. It is the collection of centuries, gathered by mankind, not only in his search for God but in his hatred of his brother. And the hearts of people here are no different than the hearts of people everywhere. I have been here long enough to see that I am not a pure-hearted pilgrim, but just another sinner on the bus, with as much nonsense in my soul as the next.

And yet the pilgrimage goes on, for we have no other help than God and we, if we wish to truly live, can only come running to Him. It is strangely fitting that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by many groups – Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, etc. It is strangely fitting because our sins have brought us to the silliness in which we stand. None of this lessens the truth as proclaimed – but it underscores but the confusion among Christians and the fact that there truly is only one Sepulchre, even as there is only One God. And all of us put our hope in Him.

Tomorrow they take us up on the Temple Mount. There are strict rules which govern such a visit – not all of which delight me as an Orthodox Christian – but the Christians who live in this land constantly bear the burden of restrictions. Thus I will try to refrain from complaining.

There cannot, it seems, be one sign that says, “The Pilgrimage to the Heart” – 30 shekels. The price of admission to that Holy Place usually costs so much more, and I don’t think I have enough to visit that place very long. Please pray that this poor sinner, distracted with his own shadow and his own sin, find the way to make the Great Pilgrimage, wherever it occurs.

We leave Saturday and get home sometime Sunday. That likely means that some regularity will return to the blog. I have much to do when I return home. I have writing to finish and my parish work.

Cf. source.

Father Stephen Freeman I am very pleased because you have traveled in the Holy Land and because your heart is full of joy. Your joy is my joy. All the happiness from my part and from presbytera Gianina, my wife, for you and for presbytera Elizabeth and your whole family and believers from your parish.

Father Dorin Picioruş

Two Articles of Father Stephen Freeman About His Pilgrimage in Holy Land

A

I am taking the day off from the pilgrimage (my wife and others are in the vicinity of Jericho today). I have stayed behind to allow my back and some swollen feet to mend – they are already better after much needed sleep – and I wanted to use some free time to offer a reflection or so on my pilgrimage to date).

There has been at least one profound moment in each day of the pilgrimage – but yesterday and the early hours of this morning (Jerusalem time) were events almost beyond description.

We began the day in Bet Sahour – the “Shepherd’s Fields” near Bethlehem. The parish is a newly-built Orthodox Church with wonderful iconography. Beside it are the archeological digs on a series of Churches going back to the early 4th century.

Later we were in Bethlehem. Despite the onslaught of vendors whenever you leave the confines of the Church, the experience was profound. We have had tremendous freedom of access to sites (the presence of Met. Kallistos has likely opened doors for us). I have been able to enter the sanctuary and venerate the altar of every Church we have visited.

The shrine of Christ’s Nativity is that strange mix of knowing where you are and how important it is and yet also being aware of crowds and the crush of pilgrims. But there were many moments of especial significance.

In the late afternoon we were at the Monastery of St. John (Moscow Patriarchate) for the Vigil for the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner (everything is Old Calendar over here). To our great surprise and delight, after the Metropolitan entered the altar, a priest came out and invited the three OCA priests in our party to enter the altar.

Nuns in the sacristry provided vestments and we shared in the Vigil, taking part particularly in the Polieley. The choir of nuns were utter ethereal in their beauty – the service in Slavonic perfection. It is very hard to describe the sense of arriving at a holy place and suddenly being extended such hospitality. It was like the welcome of the Prodigal Son.

After a light supper and brief nap, we walked across Jerusalem (after midnight), arriving at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We were expected. Met. Kallistos concelebrated with Archbishop Aristarchos, one of the members of the Holy Synod in Jerusalem and an old acquaintance of the Metropolitan. Again, the hospitality and access granted to us was overwhelming. I was able to enter the Holy Sepulchre of Christ, as were many of our group, kneel by the priest who was performing the Proskomide (the preparation of the gifts) and give him the names of all those I wanted remembered in the Liturgy.

There is a very small chapel at the entrance to the Sepulchre with an altar. At the Little Entrance, the Bishops and clergy processed into that chapel and the Liturgy continued from inside the structure that surrounds the Holy Sepulchre itself. The clergy, both those in our group as well as priests of other pilgrim groups, were able to enter the small altar area and receive communion. The inner experience of this unimagined privilege is beyond my words.

We shared refreshments with the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre after Liturgy and were shown the room containing the holy relics – which is beyond description. Several of us found our way up to the chapel of Golgotha and were able to venerate the rock beneath the altar that marks the spot where the Cross of Christ stood. I can only describe the evening as a Pascha. For though every Liturgy everywhere is always a Pascha, it is also inescapably and palpably so to receive communion at the tomb of Christ. It will doubtless be an image that will feed my heart for a long time to come.

My wife and I, finally returning to our residence at St. George’s College at 5 a.m., reflected together on the day. It was a journey from Christmas to Pascha, Bethlehem to the Holy Sepulchre, with an utterly heavenly visit to the Monastery of St. John, which marks both the birthplace of the Holy Forerunner, as well as the site of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (all of which are very special in our family). It was a day that neither of us could fathom and only gave us the reminder that the past 10 years of our lives (the years we have been Orthodox) have been blessed beyond anything we every dreamed when we began this journey.

Our focus has not been on our own “experience” of the places we visit, but rather on the prayers we are carrying with us. And yet continual unexpected joys meet us with a kindness and hospitality I would never dream of demanding.

One of our party last night commented as we left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that we had been blessed indeed. He recalled the experience of St. Mary of Egypt who had not been able to cross the threshhold of that holy place because of her sins. The hand of God held her back. It became the occasion of her conversion.

“We actually crossed the threshhold!” he commented, recognizing in that simple act the mercy of a good God towards sinners such as ourselves.

The wonder of this land is very much like the wonder of the world everywhere. The Holy is given to us constantly, even though we find ourselves surrounded in tragedy and confusion that seems insolvable. Everywhere you look the political reality of this troubled place is evident, and yet the places most Holy on this earth are here. It truly is like the human heart – where the treasuries of everything are to be found – both of evil – and of paradise itself. The struggle for everyone in this place – as the struggle for everyone, everywhere – is to enter paradise rather than to make of their life and this world a living hell. May God have mercy on us all.

Cf. source.

B

We traveled today to the Monastery of St. Saba, in the Judean desert. Founded in the 5th century, it is the longest continually functioning monastery in the Orthodox world. There are 15 monks there today, though during its height, there were as many as 5,000 in the cliffs surrounding the monastery and the monastery itself. In the 7th century, the Persians invaded and martyred a number of monks, but the monastery survived, and monks returned. It is said by the monks that the Theotokos promised that St. Saba’s would remain a living monastery until Christ returned.

As we have found all over the Holy Land, the hospitality was overwhelming. I sat in the cave that was the cell of St. John of Damascus and prayed – venerated the incorrupt relics of St. Saba (and those of the many martyrs of the monastery).

The monk who was guiding us through the monastery was asked the question about the difficulties the monastery encountered with the political situation in the area (it is situated in the Palestian Authority area). He said, “We have been here since the 5th century and have seen many political situations. We are monks. We have no enemies.”

I immediately grabbed his hand and kissed it and told him, “You’re the first man I’ve met in the holy land who proclaimed that he had no enemies. You are a blessing.”

I realized that the great peace of the monastery came not only from the holy relics and the many prayers offered in that place through the centuries, but that the monks who are there now have found paradise. For to live in the midst of so much strife but to have no enemies is indeed paradise itself!

Leaving that place has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do since coming here.

Cf. source.

Father Dorin

Despre violenţa vizuală împotriva hainei preoţeşti în Londra

O experienţă recentă a părintelui Stephen Freeman.

I’ve been in London the past two days, as we are making our way to the Holy Land. London is a marvelous city, one of my favorites. It is quite English, very international and increasingly Euro. Like many places in Europe, secularism is far more advanced than in America (or America expresses its secularism in a far more “religious” manner). Today I was thinking about clothes as we traveled around the city (they were more interesting than the clothes worn in East Tennessee).

I grew up in relative poverty in the American South. At least, if I had a definable social group, it would have been poor, white, and Southern. There were very definable social groups within the public schools beyond the elementary level, and one of the hallmarks of those schools were very identifiable groups – generally defined by what was worn. There were groups and sub-groups. What was most interesting in those years was that there was nothing that distinguished the poor except for the lack of a cohesive group. We were individuals who could not afford clothing that would mark us as belonging. Thus our belonging was mostly marked by the fact that we “did not belong.”

Much of my youth and adult years has seen fashion used to define. My teenage child can tell a particular decade by the clothes worn. My awareness of such things stopped somewhere around 1975. Here in Euro London, I have no clue as to signals that may be given by clothing. I am certain that such signals are being sent – but they are subtle, extremely diverse, and, I think, increasingly marked by individual statement rather than group identification. If you will, it is the “secularization” of clothing.

I am no sociologist, so at this point I may simply be talking through my hat, as they say, or commenting on something that has little reality about it.

I generally wear my cassock in public – it’s something many, but not all, Orthodox priests practice. It certainly draws looks even in America – though the look may be mostly one of curiosity. Here, I find that it draws looks of anger, disgust and other negative experiences that I rarely find at home. A taxi driver, angry that I was slow crossing the street, yelled an epithet out his window that a cleric back home would simple never hear (and I find London cabbies to be a very friendly and knowledgeable lot).

One of the inner difficulties of secularism is its tendency to neglect the heart (as Christianity would traditionally understand it). T.S. Eliot called us a generation of “hollow men.” C.S. Lewis described us as “men without chests.” I would more likely describe us as “people with clothes,” for it is not so much the inside that defines the modern man as the outside. This, of course, has the advantage of allowing a person to assume a number of different roles, even identities (genders in extreme cases), with a simple wardrobe change. “The play’s the thing.”

The underdevelopment of the inner life makes for a certain kind of misery or malaise, and it makes for a very shallow evangelism. It also explains the fascination that the newly Orthodox have with some of the “outward trappings” found in the culture of the Church. The inner life takes much longer to acquire. The outward things are not a problem so long as they are not substituted for the development of the inner life.

I was recently given another award by my Archbishop (Russian practice loves to give clergy various awards of distinction). I told him later, “You’re only making it harder for me on the day of Judgment.” He smiled and I know he knows. He has told that when his sister was alive and living with him, he would return from a weekend’s visit at a Church, where all the honor the Church can muster surrounds and greets a Bishop. When he would walk through the door at home, he said his sister would call out, “Bubba, take out the trash.” That is the development of an inner life.

I trust that as I make my way to the Holy Land my clearest focus will be on taking out the trash. It is the deeper need of my heart.

*****

Fr. Dorin Picioruş

Father Stephan Freeman and Maturity in Blogging. A Lesson About Love As Communion

I have come to understand very well that blogging, at many of its best points, is a ministry. [Am ajuns să înţeleg că a crea în sistem online înseamnă a sluji altora] Like most ministry, it carries certain limitations. It is not a sacrament of the Church. I trust that when, as a priest, I administer the Body and Blood of Christ, His perfection is everything and I need be nothing. There is a great comfort in that – only the concern that in my own sinfulness “I myself will become shipwreck while administering salvation to others,” as St. Paul wrote.

In this ministry of blogging, however, there are other sorts of limitations. First, I do not know everything, thus I only write about what I know (a severe limitation indeed). I also write to an amazingly diverse audience, from other Orthodox priests to the casual surfer who knows little or nothing about Orthodoxy.

Even among the Orthodox there can be a failure for me to state things well or accurately, thus causing consternation or worse.

I pray about this ministry (more than you might guess), and I take very seriously every response, and extremely seriously every negative response. I know there will always be negative responses – but I tremble when I think a poor response was on account of my own sinfulness. God forbid that any of us cause someone to stumble. It is a fearful thing.

Thus I have set rules for myself and others for kindness and gentleness (though I break the rules myself, forgive me). At least with kindness we may have a long enough conversation to actually achieve communication.

Some have asked me how I manage to post as often as I do – the answer is – mostly – I watch little television. This ministry is my own “relaxation” of sorts, a discipline to think well and write well and hopefully be of some benefit to someone. I like to write.

If occasionally (or often) I am autobiographical in my writing, it is not because I am a good example of Orthodoxy, but I am the example I know best. Poor as it is – it’s what I’ve got. God help me.

I am deeply grateful for the many kind words I receive daily and the encouragement you give to one another as well. Please pray for me, and for others who read (or comment). Prayer for one another is more important even than what we may say or write.

I have passed through a very exhausting illness the week and am glad to be writing again, though I do not have the energy of last week (yet). The Orthodox faith has buried a great giant (Solzhenitsyn) whose writings will impact generations to come. It is a reminder of how ephemeral this form of writing truly is. The only substance it will have will be found in the heart of a human being if it should be so graced as to have entered that holy place.

May God bless. May we always forgive one another. May paradise consume us! [Mânca-v-ar Raiul! Părintele Ştefan l-a audiat pe Fericitul Cleopa Ilie, nu direct, ci pe net, şi şi-a însuşit formula lui. Asta înseamnă să preiei ce e bun de la toţi!]

Cf. sursa.

De la părintele Stephen Freeman când a devenit bunic

Pr. Dorin,

On his father’s side there have been many ordained ministers, though until his father they were not Orthodox, but his Father’s ministry is clearly a blessing. His ancestors must now be praying for him.

On my side of the family, interestingly, there have been over 50 Baptist ministers in our family’s time in America – many missionaries. Thus I calculate that it takes 50 Baptist ministers praying from heaven, for God to grant one Orthodox priest. ) But things seem to be quickening in this generation. Two of my daughters are married to Orthodox priests. One of them has a father-in-law who is an Orthodox priest (incidentally, his first visit to Romania included preaching to over 100,000). She also has a brother-in-law who is an Orthodox deacon. My family has been truly blessed as converts. My parents were received into the Church at age 80. God has blessed us with a flood of converts within my family and my children’s families.

And now, a “cradle” Orthodox Christian, whose father serves in an all-Russian Church in California. In very American (and perhaps non-Orthodox fashion) the news of his birth on Sunday morning was the occasion of applause in that all Russian congregation. I suppose America has an impact on us all, but I thought it bode well for the young Peter Alexis.

His parents are both fluent in Russian (hence the service in a Russian parish). My daughter, his mother, spent a year in Siberia to perfect her Russian when she was in college. Her husband is simply a genius at languages. Having taught himself Church Slavonic and from college Russian, become so proficient that my daughter says she can not equal his command of the language. He preaches in both Russian and English each service (and the sermons are different). He, like my other priest son-in-law, is a joy to my heart and an amazement of the goodness of God.

I have been Orthodox now for 10 and 1 half years. And in this short time God has accomplished so much – in the lives of my children. We have grown a parish from about 15 people to 150 people, established 2 missions from this Church, and, of course, become the author of this blog, which God has blessed beyond anything I ever imagined.

The Orthodox Church is the most welcoming, affirming Church I could ever imagine. Truly I am at home. I hope with great longing to visit Orthodox friends across the world. This September I will be in Israel for two weeks. Russia and Romania are very high on my lists as well.

I am the least of all God’s children, but He has blessed me beyond measure!

Father Stephen Freeman