With What Little We Know

I have written and posted at least three times that “I am an ignorant man,” which is to say that I do not consider myself a great source of wisdom and insight and that what knowledge I do have is indeed limited.

It is also true that wisdom and insight are in short supply these days. We do not live in a land that has monasteries everywhere within walking distance (or even a short drive). We do not have centuries of unbroken, living knowledge of the way of Christ in many places.

What we do have is a commercialized Christianity that panders to our culture and its passions at least as much as it considers the gospel. We do not thus produce a profound Christianity, but a passionate Christianity in which the impulse to consume remains unchecked and unnamed.

But to travel towards the Kingdom of God and to make true progress in the Spiritual life is not necessarily dependent upon a holy culture or hordes of holy people. Indeed, it depends upon the grace of God and the very little that we know.

In Christ, in the true light of the gospel, what do we know?

  • We know that God truly loves the world and gave us His only begotten Son that we might have life, true life, communion with the true and living God;
  • We know that this life is marked by love and forgiveness; even including and especially including the forgiveness of our enemies;
  • We know that giving is more blessed than receiving – thus we already have the means of being blessed;
  • We know that the Way of the Cross is the Way of Life and that following Christ on that Way means freely laying down our lives for others.
  • We know that we have been commanded to give thanks for all things, thus affirming God’s goodness as the true ground of our existence;
  • We know we are not alone – that many have walked this way before us and that our success in following Christ is of concern for them;

I certainly could add to this list with some further thought, though I find it is easy to state some things that not many of us know. What I believe is that, even in the absence of great and holy men, we can take the little that we know and live.

  • It is better to live seeking communion with the true and living God than to believe that God is somewhere at a distance;
  • It is better to forgive and to love even if it means we make ourselves victim to the hate and cruelty of others;
  • It is indeed better to give than to receive, even if I can give but little. No one can keep me from giving.
  • It is better to die for others than to die alone.
  • It is better to give thanks for all things than to be eaten alive with regret and bitterness;
  • It is better to have the saints as friends than to be famous or popular with those of this world.

I know that these things are small (though they are truly large). But such small things, lived and acted upon with prayer will make the way for paradise in our heart and write our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much… (Luke 16:10)

16 Responses to “With What Little We Know”

  1. Fr. James Early Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Christ is in our midst!

    Do you remember the commercial in the 70’s for Skin Bracer, the one where the man slaps some onto his face (with a loud slapping sound) and says, “Thanks, I needed that!”? Sometimes in our spiritual lives, I think we need a little (sometimes a big) “slap.” This was it for me.

    So to you, I say, “Thanks! I needed that!”

  2. Academic Says:

    Fr Stephen,

    Thanks for these reflections. As someone who feels called to the academy, it can be very difficult to be a foolish person. However, within Christ, I live and move and have my being. Sometimes all you need to know are the “basics” As a catechumen, I’m learning that the world of Orthodox spirituality transforms intellectual “basics” to enduring transformative truths.

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    Academic,

    Indeed, I think it’s so. I spent so time in the Academy myself and know how quickly we could leave behind anything of worth. As I get older I realize how little I truly “know” and how little I have learned to be faithful in. I pray that the little I know will be enough to draw me to Christ over all others. It’s little wonder that Christ said what He did about children.

  4. mic Says:

    i wrote that particular scripture (Luke 16:10) on a dry erase board right next to my desk at work about 5 years ago, maybe more. i have thought many times that i should erase it and put up a different scripture, or a quote from one of the Fathers, but i could never bring myself to erase it.

    O Christ God, grant me the grace to be faithful even in that which is least!

  5. T Says:

    “It is better to forgive and to love even if it means we make ourselves victim to the hate and cruelty of others”

    Amen.

  6. tyrporter Says:

    Sue Anne,

    I don’t think Christianity is about me expecting someone else to lay down their life for me, it is about me laying down my life (in whatever form of self-denial is beneficial) for another. I am not a whole person until I, by God’s grace, can love another in such a way, because part of what a human being truly is is wrapped up in our communion in and with each other.

  7. William Says:

    In any case, nobody “expected” God to do what he did in Christ, in the sense that anyone held God to some kind of obligation or placed a burden of duty on God. The Christian message is that God has done what he has done in love and on his own, restoring us to life and, in so doing, restoring “all that is” to its sacred purpose, thereby defeating “all that is not.”

  8. bencstrs Says:

    Our Lord Jesus Christ was a “self-denialist”

    “5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
    6Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
    7but made himself nothing,
    taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
    8And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to death—
    even death on a cross!”
    (Philippians 2:5-8)

  9. Karen C Says:

    Sue Anne’s comments (now deleted) remind me that it is easy to confuse the “self-denial” that is an expression of weakness in the negative sense (i.e., an attempt at god-appeasing or people-pleasing out of fear of criticism, rejection or condemnation, etc.) and the free and voluntary self-emptying or self-giving that is an expression of the love of Christ and comes from a deep knowledge that we ourselves have been loved in this way–out of a fullness of Being. There was a point in my life when, in attempting to recover from an unhealthy kind of codepency, I couldn’t hear this biblical message. I could only understand it as weakness in a negative sense because that is a lot of what I had seen in myself and others. I had to take some time to “let” Christ love me and soak in the real meaning of grace before I could begin to embrace this biblical truth. As St. John says, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). I think what is hard for some to accept is that in a fallen world, where so many wills are blinded and misled into being opposed to Divine goodness and relationships are full of dysfunction and disease (sin) both on the macro and the micro level, such a love necessarily often involves suffering, pain, and struggle (though certainly not only suffering and pain–much joy as well). As in recovery from debilitating physical illness, where a relational/spiritual disease exists, rehabilitation of wounded parts involves a lot of work, pain and struggle. The goal, however, is wholeness, not victimization for victimization’s sake. Christ, Himself, “endured the Cross . . . for the JOY set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). He saw beyond the Cross to its goal which was the redemption and healing of all creation. And ultimately He rose from the dead! The gospel reminds us that before sharing in Christ’s Resurrection, we have necessarily to also share in His sufferings–in His “weakness” as meekness (which is strength under voluntary restraint) and death. This message is foolishness to those who are still perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Karen,

    Thank you. I think you offer a very balanced understanding. God bless!

  11. Stephen W. Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I find it interesting but am not suprised by your claim to ignorant, while stating to not be a source of wisdom or insight. I understand that at the greatest level we really know nothing other than what has been revealed to us or we have been allowed to see. On the other hand I am tempted to call many of your thoughts and connections insightful. It appears that you are able to transmit a certain degree of knowledge to others in a consice and readable fashion, which allows the reader to catch glimpses of something larger than themselves. This must count for something, especially in an age where there seems to be a lack of spiritual fathers. I would think that this has something to do with the popularity of your blog. I’m assuming that if you did not feel as if you were reflecting on the knowledge and wisdom of the saints, you would not continue doing what you do? Do you see then, a difference between transmiting knowledge (like I stated above) and being a source of knowledge? and do you view yourself as a transmiter of knowledge? Also; Why do you belive that we are lacking sources of wisdom these day’s? I am not trying to boost your ego but I was just wondering since you seem to have a lot of knowledge of certain things as well experience.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Stephen,

    For one, because what wisdom I do have is so limited. I think it’s useful for us to use what small amount of wisdom we may have, and to make good use of the wealth of wisdom of the fathers, without pretending to know more than we know.

    It has always been said, in Orthodoxy, that we are deeply lacking in sources of wisdom during our days. It’s a Tradition.🙂

    But the days of a St. Seraphim of Sarov and the like are not with us at present. And our priests (especially converts like me) often lack the fullness that can only come from drinking deep in a culture of Orthodoxy. But we do what we can.

    I have children married to Orthodox priests. Perhaps they, or my grandchildren, will become wise. If so, I’ll have prepared a good foundation. I look at the children in my parish and rejoice at what comes natural to them that I had to struggle as an adult to learn.

    It is always good to speak meekly and in a manner that does not make claims that could be misunderstood. Thus I boldly proclaim my ignorance.

    I just got an email from someone today who told me I was completely correct (about my ignorance)! May God bless my enemies and my friends, as St. Nicolai says. Who knows who has done me more good?

  13. Stephen W. Says:

    I agree with what you say but I still would like to believe that there could be exceptions even in our times. There were Saints that did not turn towards the church until later in life in their own times, such as St. Mary of Eygpt. I’m sure there are others as well. Because of repentance there is always a chance of aquiring virtue. Can’t true repentance come at any time and in any place even if it seems impossible?

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Stephen,

    Yes indeed there are exceptions, and I’m sorry if I sounded too tight in the other direction. There were certainly a number of saints in the 20th century that have already been “revealed” and more martyrs than probably any other century in history. There are holy elders today as well, and doubtless there will be saints revealed in our own time. It is typical of Orthodoxy to “downplay” this reality in one’s own time – almost as an act of “temporal humility” if I could coin a phrase – more or less practicing humility about the times one lives in. I contrast this strongly to the arrogance of modernity in which the latest time is always considered better than what was previous – thus being always anti-Tradition. Orthodoxy thinks just the opposite in this matter if you see what I mean.

  15. Stephen W. Says:

    Fr. Stephen, Thank you for the clarifiaction. I do worry about my children and wether or not they will be able to gain saintly qualities in this life time. My first child will be starting school this year. Even the best of schools seem to be a lost cause as far as nuturing any kind of spiritual awarness. My hope is to constantly teach them to be aware of the presence of God in their lives, so they are able to filter as much as possible. Many people I come accross feel as if the peer pressure in their children’s lives has become to strong to even try and fight against. I took my family to a monastery recently and the children loved it. After a few day’s they wanted to stay and become monastics. I plan on returning with them as often as possible. Maybe if nothing else they will begin to see their own lives in relation to this and in turn, a right relation towards God. I did not grow up seeing this as normal, when it is the most normal our lives could probably be on this earth. The best thing that I think a parent can do is to teach through example. Pray for me as I repent and by the Mercy of God, guide my family in Love.

  16. fatherstephen Says:

    Stephen,

    We raised four children and God has been truly merciful. They all attended public schools. But we prayed together as family and worshipped together and paid attention to them and provided consistent love and discipline. God took care of them, as I am sure He will take care of you. I will indeed pray for you and trust for good things from God.

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