Monthly Archives: March 2017

Strange bedfellows

To some, mixing Christianity and psychology may seem odd, even dangerous.

Many Christians are wary of psychologists – and with some reason. Sadly, many psychologists are skeptical about God and matters of faith.

In my life, the two blend so seamlessly that I cannot help but be both – a Christian and a psychologist. And I know I am not alone. Whether openly or in secret, there are many in the healing professions who are also devout believers.

Recently, in the comments, someone raised good questions about emotions and faith. I was intrigued. I spend much of my day working with other people’s emotions (not to mention my own) and pray that I do so with God’s Spirit guiding me.

Our emotions can be so powerful. And anything that is powerful has much potential for both good and evil in our lives.

And so the question might be raised: how do we as Christians understand and manage our emotions?

Are we supposed to control and subdue them? Embrace them and sit with them? Or perhaps disown them altogether as “deadly sins” (aka “passions”)?

Wow. Complicated questions.

But then again, emotions are complicated things.

As I ponder these questions and listen within, several points of awareness immediately jump up and take center stage.

One is that we cannot trust our emotions.

Another is that we cannot live without them.

And yet a third awareness is that to disown our emotions is to disown a part of ourselves and therefore is inherently unhealthy, spiritually and psychologically.

Hmm…this should make for an interesting discussion.

Let’s begin with defining what emotions are. I confess that before sitting down to write tonight, I asked the Google lady to define “emotion” for me. Being a psychologist, it seems like I ought to have the words to describe these mysterious phenomena, but I like the way she gives me straight answers – so unemotional is she in her computerized voice.

Here’s what she said: “Emotion: a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.”

It is also noteworthy that a slight scroll down the screen revealed a bit more from in which emotions were differentiated from “cognitive and volitional states”.

While these definitions seem rather dry and clinical, I think they can be quite helpful to us. Let’s begin…


Before all else, I think it important to say that our emotions are a gift from God.

This does not mean, of course, that they cannot be twisted and distorted and made to serve the evil one instead of God. All of God’s gifts can be perverted in some fashion, especially those most closely associated with human freedom.

Yet I think it is essential to any spiritual discussion of emotions to acknowledge that they are not inherently “bad”. Emotions cannot be right or wrong, good or bad, in and of themselves.

Even anger? Yes. Even anger.

I grew up – and I’m sure I’m not alone – seriously misunderstanding this very point. As I have written elsewhere, as a child preparing for confession, I once read the list of the 7 deadly sins and concluded that it was sinful for me to feel angry. Also for me to feel good about myself for any positive achievements as that would be pride.

What a mess that caused.

But I cannot really complain too much about this mess because, through it, God led me to become a psychologist. (It took a lot of therapy to work out a neurosis of that magnitude – and in the process, I discovered the beauty of this healing practice.)

OK, so back to emotions. A gift from God…

If we return to the Google Lady’s definition of emotions as an “instinctive state of mind” we may understand these notions a bit more clearly.

Emotions are indeed instinctive. Being instinctive, they are not volitional. We don’t choose them. They happen.

This may not sit well with us initially – especially with our most beloved feelings, like that “whoosh” of joy that we feel when we see the morning sun glistening on dew-drenched blossoms.

But it also may not sit well with us regarding the least beloved feelings of those around us, such as the snapping anger of a friend or spouse. You mean they can’t help it?

Yet if we stop to consider it, how many of us begin our day by thinking, “I’d like to get angry today. I think I’ll do it this afternoon when my coworker starts cracking his knuckles while I’m trying to concentrate”? Or by thinking, “I really must get sad tonight over my grandmother’s death. I haven’t done it in a while”?

It is because of this instinctive quality that we must not consider emotions as good or bad, right or wrong. We are not culpable for what is involuntary.

Surprisingly, it is in their instinctiveness that we discover that these emotions of ours are a gift from God. Indeed, “we cannot live without them” (point two, above).

On a purely biological basis, two very common emotions, anger and fear, are our protectors when we feel threatened or endangered. (Yup, good old “fight or flight” comes to our rescue.) We must have these to survive.

The two other emotions considered “basic” to humans are happiness and sadness. These too surely have some survival value. Our expression of these emotions communicates to others what we ought to approach or avoid.

And, lest this come across as too scientific or evolutionary, all four of these basic emotions are also part of what adds depth and color to our lives. They are a core part of our relatedness to one another – which, in Christianity, we call love.

Unperverted, the emotions instinctively communicate among us who and what we need, trust and value. In their many and varied forms, they mold us into community – a challenging but vital part of who we are.

And there are far more emotions than just the basic four. Could we live without gratitude, sympathy or attraction? Or even without frustration, regret or worry?

I do not think so. At least, I, for one, would not want to try. I believe that these emotions, in their pure and undistorted forms, are gifts that not only support our survival but deeply enrich our lives.


Having thus labeled emotions as gift, how then can I simultaneously say that they cannot be trusted? (see point one above) Why would God give us such a gift?

The dilemma, however, lies not in God’s gift of emotion but, strangely, in another one of His gifts: our freedom.

Yes, our freedom. It is what makes our emotions different from those of the lower animals. The animals have only the instinctive part – so the gift for them is always pure and undistorted.

But we humans…well, we have this freedom issue that opens the door for our gift of emotion to become perverted, often without our recognizing it.

[Side note: This, of course, still leaves us with the question as to why God would give us such a gift as freedom. My only conclusion after many years of pondering is that freedom is essential to love. And, while our freedom can result in some horrible messes, the supremacy of love redeems them all.]

The perversion of our emotions is a central aspect of our “ancestral sin”, the disease that has been passed down from generation to generation since the first sin. And, because we often are naturally blind to this perversion, we tend to think of our instinctive emotional reactions as normal and natural.

Unless, of course, we learn otherwise.

But, before going there, let’s consider an example of these distorted emotions that we cannot trust.

OK, pride, one of those ones I misunderstood a lot in my childhood. And my adulthood.

Suppose I get really good grades on my report card and I am pleased. I worked hard and feel good about the positive result. Anything wrong with that “pride”?

No, I don’t think so. This emotion of pride is a relatively undistorted and instinctive reaction to having my effort yield a successful result. It even has a positive value because the pleasant feeling reinforces effort, making me more likely to continue applying myself to my studies.

However, suppose something else creeps into my child’s mind. Suppose I think, “I’m smarter and better than my brother because I got better grades than he did.” And suppose I let him know it, directly or indirectly.

I do not think it is too hard to see in this scenario that my instinctive and innocent emotion has been corrupted.

First, I am attributing all of the good result to myself, ignoring the fact that whatever academic abilities I might have were given to me by God. I didn’t create the ability in myself. Second, I have departed from the way of Love by using my accomplishment to diminish another. I cannot simply be pleased; my victory has to be someone else’s defeat.

Although having learned about sin, I am unable to recognize (in this hypothetical scenario) that a disease has been passed down to me and has infiltrated my emotions. Being raised in a culture where competition is paramount (part of the disease), my emotional reaction seems as normal as rooting for the home team.

It all transpires so automatically that I do not even question it.

I don’t see the enemy at work because it has not even occurred to me to look for him.

And this is why we cannot trust our emotions.


There are many ways in which we may discover our emotions to be untrustworthy. In fact, so many ways that to do a comprehensive review would most likely feel very disturbing to us.

Some of our emotions we find quite pleasant. We can trust our feelings of joy, can’t we? Certainly there can be nothing distorted about them.

Well, actually there can be – at least some of the time anyway.

Even my deepest spiritual joy is suspect. Not because of the joy itself but because of how readily contaminants can invade even this sacred experience.

Perhaps I imagine myself being admired for my devotion. Perhaps my joy makes me feel like I am above “those other people” who are not on such intimate terms with God.

The list could continue on – but I think the point is made.

Ironically, we cannot even trust our emotions to guide us about whether we growing spiritually or not. Feeling bereft of God’s presence and consolation may be an indicator that God is actually at work deep within us, despite how “bad” it feels.

God certainly gives us some strange gifts. And leaves us so vulnerable to attack.

All for the sake of love, it seems.


If they are so treacherous, so infiltrated by the enemy, should I not just banish my emotions altogether? Better to pluck out my eye than… (See Mark 9: 47.)

And did not the Lord Jesus forbid anger, one of our basic but most troublesome emotions? (See Matthew 5: 22).

I do not think the first Scripture passage is meant to be taken literally. Jesus doesn’t want us to maim ourselves. Since all have sinned, a literal interpretation would leave everyone wandering about half-blind and missing one or both hands.

Further, the Gospels tell us that when Jesus approached a sinner, He simply said, “Your sins are forgiven.” (He did not offer to help saw off their hands.) The message, I believe, is that He doesn’t want us to value anything more than we value our souls.

Hence, if we are not meant to maim our bodies, neither are we meant to maim our minds. (Recall how neurotic I became when I tried to rid myself of all anger and good feelings about myself? A psychological maiming that resulted from not allowing myself to feel what I felt.)

And what about Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel: “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment”? Doesn’t this mean we shouldn’t feel angry?

I think we can only assume that Jesus was referring to perverted emotions, since He was explaining this in the context of murder. He wanted us to understand that murder starts with the perverted emotion of anger.

Is there any other sort of anger than this distorted kind? Actually, yes. When Jesus cleansed the Temple of the money-changers, He displayed anger – strong anger. So what is the difference? And why didn’t He make the distinction, if this is what He meant?

Jesus’ anger was pure, i.e. it wasn’t bound up in ego and wasn’t a departure from the way of Love. In fact, He was angry because of Love – love for the Father and love for those who, while pretending to be observant of the Law, were actually disparaging it.

We sinners, in our perverted anger, too often like to justify ourselves by noting that “Jesus got angry too!” We can’t see the difference because we are blind to how our emotions have been twisted. Hence, we wouldn’t have gotten it, had Jesus attempted to explain that our anger, not His, would be “liable to judgment”.

In sum, banishing our emotions, despite the fact that we cannot trust them, is not the solution. We won’t succeed and, by disowning a necessary and vital part of ourselves, we may well end up damaging ourselves psychologically.


Maybe I can just control my emotions. Or at least the bad ones. Oh…that’s right. There aren’t supposed to be any “bad” ones.

So where do I turn? Does Christianity hold any answers for me? Or do I turn to psychology?

Strange bedfellows though they may be, Christianity and psychology, both rightly understood, can never be at odds with one another.

The problem in today’s world, however, is that we seldom (if ever) understand either one of them rightly.

And so I’m going to be the exception? No, I do not understand them rightly either. But I pray before I write, proceeding with trust that the Holy Spirit will enable me to write something worthy of Him.

Beginning with the Christian perspective, the teaching that first comes to mind is this:

“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5: 8)

Now that we know that our emotions are a gift from God but are often twisted by the enemy, we must be watchful. Rather than automatically trusting (or rejecting) what we feel, we stop and take notice of our emotions.

We accept the emotions as ours – but we are cautious.

We observe them with some neutrality that we might discern whether they have been tampered with. This is not unlike how a person of importance in wartime might examine their mail carefully before opening it.

While examining our emotions in this manner might seem obsessive or burdensome, we must remember that we are indeed at war, though on a spiritual battlefield unseen by human eyes.

As we become more practiced at this process of observing and discerning, it may come more automatically. However, though some may pass inspection quickly, other emotions we may need to sit with for some time before we see the truth hidden within.

Does this spiritual process have any parallels in the world of psychology? Indeed it does, though naturally the vocabulary of secular practice is quite different.

One example of this parallel might be found in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), one of the most widely researched and commonly used treatment approaches in psychology. In CBT, we acknowledge the link between distortions in thinking and emotional distress. We learn to be on the watch for these distortions so as to intercept and correct them.

Another example might be how, in mindfulness treatment approaches, we learn present-moment awareness, observing our emotions from the quiet of nonjudgment. In so doing, we learn to not drown in our emotions – but also not to exile them. We notice and accept them, while cultivating compassion for self and others.

Yes, the vocabularies are different but, theoretical underpinnings aside, we find some common truths in the Christian and psychological perspectives: that emotions are not trustworthy; that despite this, emotions are important and not to be banished; that emotions are frequently subject to distortion which can be quite problematic; and, finally, that we need to be on the watch for these distortions and the trouble they cause.

In other words, we simply cannot let our emotions run amok or they may destroy us from the inside out.


Of course all of this simply begs the question.

Understanding our emotions in this rudimentary fashion, what then are we as Christians to do with them?

Certainly, being sober and vigilant is essential. But it truly could become obsessive to try to intercept and examine each and every emotion experienced on a daily basis.

This is especially true because we have learned that we cannot even classify the emotions by content to simplify the task. There is no rule of thumb that allows us to say that anger is suspicious but joy is not.

What we must do, I believe, is acknowledge that the task before us is impossible.

I suppose psychology would call this a “paradoxical intervention”. However we are embarking on a far deeper course here.

Facing the impossible, as Christians, we turn to God – for nothing is impossible or inscrutable for Him.

Always, we pray. But especially we pray when encountering those emotions that we cannot manage on our own – the ones that confuse or overwhelm us when we try to discern whether they have been contaminated.

We pray to Christ – for He shared our emotions during His time among us and He understands. We ask Him daily to purify our hearts, our minds, our emotions.

We ourselves cannot defeat the evil one. But He already has.

We pray also to His Holy Mother and to all the saints, for they too know the struggle of being human. They are our helpers and protectors.

As we continue our lives of prayer, we cultivate the virtues. Knowing both the impossibility and the necessity of managing our emotions, we learn humility. As we grow in humility, we come to see more clearly how ego is behind so many of our troublesome emotions.

And so we pray to our Savior to help us empty ourselves as He emptied Himself.

As we become empty of self, we understand more and more how to cultivate the virtues of compassion, understanding and patience.

We begin to truly comprehend the disease that has afflicted us. We come to understand that those who provoke our most difficult emotions are similarly afflicted.

In our prayer, we ask the Lord to wash us in His mercy. And, as our compassion grows, we begin to ask Him to wash all others in His mercy as well.

Each time He washes us in His mercy, we learn a bit more about what we need to cleansed of. Indeed, in our prayers of gratitude, we begin to ask Him to help us see more clearly what in our thoughts, feelings and desires need purifying.

And He shows us.

Little by little, we learn the virtue of temperance, discovering that, as we grow in Him, many of our hungers and desires become less consuming. He Himself fills our deepest hunger, such that our other hungers becoming barely noticeable by comparison. Yet in His love for us, He never forbids us the sweet simplicity of His created gifts to address them.

What I have written here is not, of course, the end of the process, but merely the beginning.

Living a life in Christ is a continual unfolding that brings us more and more deeply into the peace that only He can give.

And in that peace, by His grace, we find our emotions becoming increasing pure. Yet, it is not merely the purity that the animals possess. It is the purity of Love.


Can psychology offer anything that parallels this?

Certainly not – at least not in its textbooks and research articles.

Yet this does not mean that we need dismiss it any more than we would dismiss medical help when we are ill.

God can and does heal our bodies and our minds.

Yet He also allows us suffering that we might be more closely united to Christ on the Cross.

But we are not to be united to Him by ourselves. He brings us into His Body with its many members that we might also be in union with one another.

This unity of the Body is not static – no, it is dynamic and fully alive. Every member has been given its own unique gifts to nourish and heal others in the Body, so that each is ever giving and receiving in an eternity of loving exchange.

A wise and holy patient of mine (who has since gone to God) helped me understand this in very practical terms.

In her Protestant denomination, members actively renounced psychology, something that saddened her greatly. She had had a very traumatic life and she knew God brought us together to help her heal. She saw many depressed and traumatized souls coming to her church every week but they would not consider doing what she so bravely did.

One time when we were discussing this, she shared with me this simple lesson: whether we are going to a medical doctor, a dentist or a psychologist, what is most important is that we find one who is “in the Body”.

She had seen me previously and was not ready. Truthfully, I was not ready yet either at our first encounter. Time brought her searching again and she saw a couple of other therapists briefly. She related how they did not understand her – and stated that she could not understand a word they said!

They simply did not speak the same language. The other therapists were kind and well-intentioned people but they were not “in the Body”.

When she and I resumed therapy after a hiatus of several years, she was ready. And I began to understand that the movement I been experiencing in my soul prior to her arrival was God preparing me.

And, as always happens in the Body, the gifts God gave me brought her healing and the gifts God gave her strengthened me in faith.

“Psychology” was a vehicle that was integral to the process, but never apart from the loving hand of God.


Having prayed for and written these words over a period of several days, I am now spent, like a woman who has given birth after a long and harrowing labor.

Harrowing – for I see how very weak I am. I am but a child wandering about on a battlefield who, by the grace of God, still stands after the shots have been fired.

Can I even trust the words I have written?

Certainly not. Nor can I trust any of the emotions I feel as I read them over one last time.

I can only trust in God. I give Him myself.

May He do with me – and these words – whatever He wills.


May God bless us and keep us. May He let His face shine upon us. May He be gracious to us and grant us His peace.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Back to the books

Just a brief note, dear readers.

I have decided to blog the book I mentioned earlier, Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father, as well as the second volume, Father Arseny: A Cloud of Witnesses.

(By “blogging the book”, I mean that I have created a blog site where I will post a series of reflections and invite others to do so as well.)

The site address for this new blog is: and the first post has been posted.

I realize that many of my Orthodox readers may have already read these books. Please feel free to break out the old volumes and reread any parts that especially moved you. Since the books include many memoirs, these can be reflected upon again and again without rereading the entire book. (Not that there is anything wrong with rereading the entire book!)

I will not be blogging in a chapter-by-chapter fashion as I did with our first book. At least as far as I know. Never know how the Spirit will lead me. 🙂

Although I have finished posting on the first book blog, any who wish to read and comment on Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way, by Matthew the Poor (Fr. Matta El-Meskeen), that blog remains available at I will receive notice of any comments posted there and will gladly respond to them.

All of the books mentioned in this post are extraordinary books that I believe will help us grow together spiritually. If this seems like a good time for you to read, please join me…

The Great Divide

I did not know until a few years ago that I had been living in schism all my life. No one told me.

You may think that I am joking but I am not. It is rather hard to believe, given that I am 61 years old and not generally an ignorant person.

I grew up in a largely Roman Catholic world and, as a child, was taught that the Catholic Church was the One True Faith. While I came to gradually learn a bit about other religions, Christian and otherwise, I did not know that there was another Church that laid hold to this same claim.

There was the girl down the alley that I sometimes played with when we lived in Minneapolis. I knew that she was Lutheran. I also knew that I wasn’t to ever attend any of her church services because I might unwittingly learn some false teachings.

I had no idea what those false teachings were – but I was not about to risk finding out. I felt a bit bad for my friend, that she was under the influence of this unknown error, but she and her family seemed to be nice enough people. And I was raised to be accepting of diversity, even though we didn’t have a buzzword for it back then.

When I began high school (Catholic, of course), our insular way of life was challenged by change. Within the Church, Vatican II had  launched its modifications to our familiar rituals and practices. It was an exciting time for me. Words that I had learned to rattle off in Latin now had meaning for me. And I liked the meaning.

My school encouraged us to question and examine our faith – to really make it our own. As part of a special interim time in the school year, I joined an instructor and a few other students in a study of Judaism. It was fascinating to attend a Bat Mitzvah and learn what it meant to keep Kosher.

In the outside world, change was also rampant. I was a bit oblivious during those early years of high school but, having an older brother, I soon learned about things like the Vietnam War. In 1973, the legalization of abortion cut through me like a knife. High school religion classes began to include the discussion of social and political issues in the context of our faith.

However, in one high school religion class, we learned about other religions. I do not recall just which ones – but I do remember the Mormons. They scared me because, on the surface, I thought it just might be true. I felt strongly about the plight of Native Americans and it seemed to me quite plausible that Christ might have visited these noble people after His Resurrection.

If this really did happen, would it mean that I had to change my religion? I did not like the idea of leaving the familiar – but the truth was important to me. However, further reading revealed some beliefs that did not ring true to the Gospel I knew. Hence, I was not put to the test and could, in good conscience, remain Catholic.

There was no discussion in this class of the Orthodox Church – at least that I can recall. In fact, I am embarrassed to admit that I probably didn’t even know there was such a faith. I vaguely recall asking my mother why the cross on a particular church looked different from ours when we drove past it. Whatever response she gave must have satisfied my curiosity. I had no reason to think about it further.

While my relative ignorance may seem appalling, it must be noted that, in those days, we did not have the Internet. Computers were huge machines that took up entire rooms and most of us had little or no access to one. Hence, our interests were piqued only by those things we saw in our daily lives or heard about on the television or radio.

And even if my interest was piqued on a topic, my information sources were limited to the Webster’s dictionary and the Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia my mother had purchased, one volume at a time, from the local grocery.

There was, of course, the library. But that required being driven by a parent and such excursions were typically reserved for times when homework assignments required more than what the Funk & Wagnalls could offer. The library had the Encyclopedia Britannica!

Naturally, one would expect that I would have learned more when I went away to college, especially given that theology classes were required at my Catholic institution. But, alas, no courses on Church history to cue me in on the “other Church” and the existence of the schism.

I would not want my Orthodox friends to be offended by my ignorance of their existence and our sad division. Truth be told, I never really understood the Reformation either. Despite my deep interest in Christianity, all of the details of history, religious or secular, well…kind of bored me. To this day, I’m not sure which side of the “faith vs. works” controversy I am supposed to be on. It has always seemed obvious to me that we need both, so why all the fuss?

In 1977, I moved to Cleveland to be part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a spiritual journey into living simply in community, with a focus on social justice and service.

And it was in 1977 that I had my first notable contact with Orthodoxy.

My volunteer job was working with ex-offenders in a program that was founded by Lutherans and administered by an Interfaith (largely Protestant) organization. My spiritual horizons were expanding and I learned a profound respect for the faithful lives of those who worshiped in ways other than my own.

But the Orthodox were not, of course, part of this.

However, just down the street from my office in the inner city, an Orthodox priest was founding a monastery which soon became a shelter for homeless men. I was intrigued by this because I had never heard of a monastery performing such a service – but we were very grateful for it. Extra food was always brought to their kitchen as they fed many of the poor of the neighborhood as well as their homeless guests.

I did not see many monks in this monastery but I did not really expect to. Their notices in local publications always included an invitation to attend Divine Liturgy. I considered going, having shed the old dictum about being led astray, but I was a bit shy. I didn’t know what to expect and was reluctant to just appear at the door for liturgy. Where amidst the throngs of homeless men would this liturgy take place?

However, having had a passing and pleasant acquaintance with the founder, Fr. Gregory Reynolds, I went to St. George’s Orthodox Church to pay my respects when he reposed. I did not attend the services, assuming that such were for those who shared his faith and life more intimately than me.

When, in 1999, I moved into my house in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, I discovered a wealth of churches. There were (and still are) three Orthodox Churches within walking distance of my house and at least three Roman Catholic Churches (not to mention the Ukrainian Catholic and Byzantine Catholic Churches). We were also graced with the United Church of Christ, an Evangelical Lutheran Church and some Hispanic Pentecostal churches and storefronts.

We all seemed to live peaceably together in this small, once highly ethnic enclave to the south of downtown. Still, no one informed me that I was in schism. And yet, realistically, how and when could this have been brought to my attention?


I have told the story elsewhere of how, in July of 2012, God directed me to Fr. Stephen’s blog Glory to God for All Things.

In short, following a deep meditation while having an MRI of my brain, I felt compelled to search the Internet for an understanding of some words that had come to me. It had to do with God singing. I had never read before that God or even Jesus sang – yet this had entered my prayerful meditation while in the tube.

When Google did not immediately come up with anything significant, I recalled Aslan singing in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. So I entered “Aslan singing” into my search engine. And I found myself reading a text that didn’t seem to have much to do with God singing – but it caught my attention nonetheless.

“Wow, I really agree with this!” I thought to myself. “What is this website?” That initial reading wasn’t so much imparting any new information to me about Christianity (that would come later), but it was just so well explained that I had to continue reading.

It took a little while for me to get a grasp on the discussion, but not terribly long. The Internet was at my fingertips and I could learn the basic facts I needed. I had also had a patient some years before who had converted to Orthodoxy, debunking the old assumption that Orthodoxy was probably “just an ethnic thing”.

As I read more and more at Fr. Stephen’s, I found myself joining in the community of commenters and feeling quite at home. Most of the time. Every now and then someone made a comment that suggested some rather strong negative feelings about Catholicism. Fr. Stephen himself seemed to me to be “angry” when discussing our separation.

I even wrote a comment to him once, asking forgiveness for whatever my Church had done to his Church. I didn’t get it. Yet when his posts turned too historical for my poor history-challenged mind, I simply scanned them and waited for another.

While things that happened so many years ago might interest some, they didn’t appeal to me. This side says this, the other side says that. There is no unbiased account of history – how can I make sense of it?

We all believe in the Gospel, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the source of our salvation. We all know the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We honor His Virgin Mother and celebrate the communion of saints. As for “the filioque”, frankly, I had never heard of it.

When I learned what it meant, I was again scratching my head. I could not imagine that any of us know or understand the inner workings of the Holy Trinity. What is important is that we believe that there is a Holy Trinity. And Catholics and Orthodox alike hold this fundamental belief.

Now I understood that this wasn’t the only trouble that led to this schism-thing. I’m sure more historical research would have led me to more facts. But I was searching with my heart, not my mind. Why was I separated from my brothers and sisters in Christ?


Fast-forwarding into the present stage of my faith journey, it seems to me that the heart of the trouble lies in our sinfulness. How can it not? God gave us one Church and we broke it in two.

Of course, it is very typical of us human beings to point to the other guy and say, “He’s the one who did it, not me!” or “I wouldn’t have had to do this if she hadn’t done that!”

And so, whether it be the schism or the Reformation (about which I remain in historically ignorance to this day), our natural tendency is to view things in black-and-white terms. It becomes as much about blame in these historical conflicts as it does in marital conflicts.

Which, I believe, reflects our lack of repentance.

Whenever people interact, a system is created – a system that is something different from just the two or more individuals (or nations or church bodies) involved. Even when one party commits an egregious wrong, the response of the other party becomes an important part of the dynamic. More actions and reactions come forth that would not have occurred were it not for the interaction. And on it goes, one reaction provoking another which provokes another…

In other words, none of us are innocent. We have all inherited sin and we all partake, feeding into the vicious cycle of destruction.

Were it not for Christ, I fear that we would never find our way out of this mess. We would be bereft of the glorious union with Him and each other for which we were made. I can imagine no greater tragedy.


Now that I have been told about the schism, certainly I can intellectually grasp the concept. It goes something like this:

There was a rupture in the Church many centuries ago, the history of which is there to be studied by those who wish to study it. As a result of the rupture, separate human ecclesiastical institutions developed, one commonly called “Catholic” and the other “Orthodox”. The Orthodox and the Catholic believe a few things differently. On a practical level, the manner in which these groups worship differs significantly on many details. I say “details” not to minimize their importance to the people who practice them but to distinguish them from the heart of the liturgy: the Word and the Eucharist. Despite their many common beliefs, they remain apart, not sharing the Sacraments with each other, and hence they are not “in communion” with one another. Both consider themselves directly descended from the apostles and thus, “the Church”, with the other ecclesiastical institution being regarded as the one who left the Tradition.

And oversimplified explanation, no doubt, but I’m not going to pretend to explain more than I understand. Nor am I claiming that my understanding is completely accurate.

Having said all of this about the schism, however, I must confess that I still don’t really see it.

I see one Church, the living, mystical Body of Christ on earth. You, my faithful Orthodox readers, I see you in the Body. You, my faithful Catholic readers, I see you in the Body too. And any other readers, genuinely seeking God, longing to know Christ, I see you in the Body too – or at least on your way to finding your home there.

We are one Church, one Body of Christ. In Him, we are being made perfect so as to be brought into perfect union with Him and each other.

Yet, you might ask, how can I say this when the Orthodox and Catholics are not in communion with one another?

My human mind and my earthly eyes can certainly see the rupture. But the eyes of my heart see the Oneness – and I trust the eyes of my heart more than their worldly counterparts.

It is true – the eyes of my heart cannot see it perfectly. I am not perfectly united to Christ. But I see it…if only “as in a mirror”.

Allow me to explain.

What do we imagine that Christ Himself sees? As the Head, when He looks upon His Body, does He see the broken or the whole?

Because we have broken what He gave us, is He then compelled to also see it as broken? For all eternity?

I cannot imagine that He is compelled to do anything, much less see through the eyes of sinful humanity. In His eternal Being, He sees all things as they are in the fullness of timeless Truth. How could we imagine that He would see our sinfulness, the lies of the evil one, rather than Truth?

This is not to say that He does not know that the lies and sins and evil are all still at work in our world. But He, in His eternity, sees the antidote. For He Himself is the antidote.

His Body, once broken and raised, cannot be broken again.

Just as in the Gospel the Lord Jesus looked upon the man with a withered hand and made him whole, so He looks upon our brokenness and we are made whole. He looked upon the blind, the lame and the deaf; if they believed, they too were made whole.

To be healed, they needed only a flicker of faith, not a lengthy creed. And those who were possessed did not even need to express belief. He saw that they were caught in an impossible trap and He set them free.

Yet even greater than this is what He has done for us. Before surrendering Himself to death, He gave us His Body and His Blood – that we might know that He chose to sacrifice Himself out of love.

Then, taking into Himself all of our weakness, our sin, our strife, He allowed His Body to be beaten, broken, spat upon.

Though He had done nothing to merit death, He entered death in utter humility, sacrificing everything. Death could not hold Him captive as it did us – for the prince of death could not endure His selfless love.

Triumphant in battle, He was raised up on the third day. Not into this life or into His old Body but into the New Life and the new Body. The Body which we are, the Church, through the outpouring of the Spirit upon us.

His Body, once broken and raised, cannot be broken again.

Human institutions we can pervert, divide or even destroy with our sins. But we cannot break the Body – we cannot divide it.

We are One Body.

We are the Church.


(Please note that these ramblings are simply my ramblings and do not represent the teachings of the Catholic Church. I do not know enough to undertake a task of that magnitude. May God forgive me in my sinful folly.)

o holy Love


divine love is humble

pouring itself out completely

as it forgives, restores, heals.

it has no end,

emptying itself

yet never running dry.

it is personal, intimate,

drenching the body, the mind, the soul

with all they ever longed for

but knew not how to desire.

divine love caresses, enlightens, fulfills,

drawing the other into communion

until there is no difference

between Lover and beloved –

and the beloved too is humble,

pouring itself out completely

as it forgives, restores, heals.

it has no end,

emptying itself,

yet never running dry.

o holy Divinity, God, Creator of all –

my Beloved, my hope, my joy!

there is no end – only beginning,

as You create and love and create anew,

o holy Love, my love, My Love.


o holy Love, can i allow myself to receive You?

(refrain repeats and repeats)


hush…just receive…

just receive…


The Next Book

Greetings, faithful readers,

Just a brief announcement. On the Here to Pray blog (which few if any still read), I promised a new book.

Having taken just over a year to pray and blog the book, Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way, by Matthew the Poor, I’m sure that everyone is just waiting on the edge of their seats to see what I have selected for the next round.

Actually, the new book chose me. I had been planning to read/blog a completely different book that also sat in a pile of spiritual works waiting to be read – but it is not to be. Or at least not yet.

For in a particularly deep time of prayer, experienced only by grace, I found myself simply getting up, going to my bookcase and pulling out an entirely different book.

The new book, begun this holy season of Lent, is Father Arseny 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father.

However, a problem has arisen. I cannot put it down.

And I do not feel worthy to write a word about Father Arseny. Some things are simply too sacred to be commented upon.

And so, for now, I will continue absorbing the book and leave its half-prepared blog site untouched.

Perhaps something will be written about it in the future. That is up to God.

In the meantime, I must read. And read. And have my faith renewed at a level that I did not know was possible.

You are welcome to read with me, even if I remain silent. (I suspect that, if you have already read the book, you will understand.)


For those who may be curious, I will provide a brief excerpt from the cover description:

Father Arseny, former scholar of church art, became Prisoner No. 18376 in the brutal “special sector” of the Soviet prison camp system. In the darkness of systematic degradation of body and soul, he shone with the light of Christ’s peace and compassion. His sights set on God and his life grounded in the Church, Father Arseny lived by the injunction to “bear one another’s burden, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2)

However, having read the first 76 pages, I can say that this description only scratches the surface of what lies inside this book. Yes, there are narratives compiled by “servant of God Alexander concerning his spiritual father” – but what they reveal are not simply the details of a man’s life, but the action of God amidst some of the most devastating evil one can imagine.

If I am meant to write, I will share more at a future time. In the meantime, blessed Lent to all.