I Am A Mess (Still in Need of a Savior)

Among my continual reading (I read some books occsionally, and some I read continuously, a little a day), is Dimitru Staniloae’s Orthodox Spirituality. It is one of the finest and most comprehensive books on the inner life of a human being that I know. Generally, such a book could be read like a medical textbook, studying until you had mastered all of the terminology and could lecture intelligently on the various aspects of the soul or the animal passions, etc. I have never been able to read this book in such a manner.

My deepest impression as I read, is simply that I am a mess. I realize that the passions invade my reasoning, my prayers, pretty much everything. If I were speaking classically I would say that I have barely begun the discipline of purification.

On the other hand, most people that I meet are about as messed up as I am. I have had occasion to meet a few people whom I realize are much further along when it comes to purification. When I speak to them I feel like a child.

It is in this context that I write relatively disparagingly about amost anything other than prayer, forgiveness, confession, almsgiving, penance, and struggling to keep the commandments of Christ. I will boldly bear witness to Orthodoxy, though I don’t like to argue about it. If you want to submit to its life, it is the life of Christianity, unbroken through its centuries and you can do a lot worse. I believe it is the true life.

But, though I submit my intellect (such as it is) to that fact – I am far more concerned to submit the parts of me that are constantly rearing their ugly heads as the passions. Thus the battle becomes very non-philosophical for me – but constantly existential.

I probably forget that for others, philosophical issues may still be quite important and may indeed have been a path that brought them to the Orthodox faith. If so, it is a path I do not know. As a priest, I am less concerned to listen to someone’s philosophical thoughts and far more concerned to find out what kind of mess they are in. If they’re not in a mess, then they need a better confessor than me.

My experience is not the definition of the faith. But my reading is mostly to be found in Staniloae, Sophrony, Zacharias, St. Silouan and the like. They stood (stand) on or in the abyss which daily threatens to devour me, body and soul. And from that abyss they writing knowingly of the love and power of God’s mercy. If I know someone who can tell me the way out of the abyss, that’s what I want to hear and what I want to share.

If you have no idea of what I am talking about, bookmark this. You may need it.

In the meantime, I will pray and fast (though I don’t want to fast again like I did earlier this week), and listen to the wisdom of those who know the pathway through the dark places. It is the most glorious news that there even is such a path. Glory to God!

19 Responses to “I Am A Mess (Still in Need of a Savior)”

  1. NAL Says:

    I had just finished writing in my journal many of your same sentiments when I turned to your website. I won’t need to bookmark it – I’m living it today. Thank you for sharing your struggle with these often overwhelming issues. Your desire to keep on walking “the path” with a broken and contrite heart is an encouragement to us all. Christ is among us!

  2. shevaberakhot Says:

    Father Stephen:

    In His great love for us, He has taken upon Himself the sting of (our) death, which is the abyss.

    The more we seek Him in this present life, the more we become like Him in His eternal life.

    God bless you

  3. Fr. James Early Says:

    I too find that as time passes, I become less interested in the philosophical, theoretical, and historical sides of the faith (thought certainly not completely uninterested) and more interested in cleaning up the mess that is my own life, while trying not to cause others to stumble by my own words and actions. It is indeed a long and narrow path.

    May God give us all the grace and strength to become more like Christ!

  4. Seth Williamson Says:

    I will pray for you, daily if I can. Blogging may be ephemeral (just as my own business, broadcast and print communication, is ephemeral). But then, life itself is ephemeral and all flesh is grass. To few of us is it given to produce great literature like Solzhenitsyn. This is just the way it is. We are to bloom where we’re planted, and it seems to me you’re doing a good job.

    Pray for me if you can spare the time (I’ve got aggressive prostate cancer).

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Shevaberakhot,

    Thank you and others for the kind thoughts. The abyss and the sting of death are not the same thing – I refer to something else. But thank you.

  6. Fr. Raphael Johnston Says:

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for the clarity of your posts.

    When I am tempted to talk about issues not immediately pertaining to living the Christian life in its fullness – and I am tempted all too often – I remember words like those you have written in this post: Stick to the basics of the Faith: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, The Prayer of Jesus, crucifying the flesh, maintaining watchfulness of my heart, purifying the heart, defeating the passions…..and keep silence on all other topics. After all, even if it were possible for me to say something helpful about other things, that helpfulness would only be temporary and passing, while matters of the Faith are eternal. God forbid that I should help someone for this life only – which, to paraphrase St. Paul, would make me among men the most pitiable.

    And when I am standing at the edge of the abyss – I try to remember to have a cup of tea.

    The unworthy priest Raphael

  7. Sophocles Says:

    Father bless,

    I just recently completed Father Dimitru’s “Orthodox Spirituality” after spending months in it with dictionary in hand, writing out definitions of words that I even knew and those I did not.

    Reading it I quickly realized I was in the hands of a master of the inner life as you point out.

    I too have stood in the abyss and I know of its ravenous hunger. At times I wish I would allow it to have me.

    For me, my own “baseline” spirituality is the knowledge of what I have done, thought and desired. I shudder, literally, sometimes when I “see” myself. I have become intimately acquainted with what I am capable of and if I am honest, the most utter depravity(not meant Calvinistically) is within me and it often beckons.

    In turning to the Lord all this, it has taken me much struggle and prayer to even begin to believe that he loves me, to really even begin to know what love is.

    The most memorable line Forest Gump said is “I’m not a smart man but I know what love is”.

    My own understanding and brains often get in the way of knowing God and being known by Him, trusting Him.

    My own enamorement with the love of “knowledge” for the sake of the knowledge itself has dissipated dramatically as the result of life experience not matching adolescent theories and idealism as well as maturing and through the practices and disciplines given to us by the Holy Church.

    I am grateful to find echoed here in your writings and thoughts and exploration of our Faith a kinship of sorts.

    I treasure such kinships among those I know in my life and I find them to be rare indeed.

    In Christ,

    Sophocles

  8. david p Says:

    Long time ago I read a similar book and one thought in it is still with me after reading it 35 yrs ago.

    Quote: we won´t see our own sin until we see the width and depth of it and how far it has driven us from G-D. Unquote.

    Yes, we still need a Saviour.

  9. shevaberakhot Says:

    Father Stephen:

    Thank you, you are very welcome. I apologise for the misunderstanding my previous post may have caused.

    The abyss as I understand it, is a God sized ‘space’ within, that is yet devoid of the presence of God. As counterpart to the kingdom of God, it’s dimensions are proportionate to the infinity of God. Satan, counterpart to the one true God had the general run of the place.

    The consequences of man’s collusion with satan and the rebellious angels (no exceptions here I’m afraid) have been mitigated (even done away with) by the redemptive sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Once, but for all.

    I believe this may be the main chief difference between the old Mosaic and the new Messianic covenant. Whereas the old could only atone, the new has completely redeemed.

    So, instead of the abyss, man’s deserved eternal abode, we are presented with keys to the kingdom.

    Sin, death, pain, illness, and general emptiness thereof — all these belong to the abyss. Not that we cannot of course, through suffering, achieve a holy state pleasing to God — “pray” Jesus says, “that your journey be in summer”!

    I’d like to apologise pre-emptively, to any of your readers who may be averse to fundamentals, or to that which smacks of dogma.

    This is an excellent blog Father Stephen.

    Thank you once again!

  10. shevaberakhot Says:

    Orthodoxy by the way, is a wonderful thing and may provide answers to the awful mess the church seems to have gotten itself into.

  11. Margaret Says:

    Fr. Stephen, God bless you! You have written words expressing the fear and wonder that lays on my heart so heavily at times! I appreciate the recommendations to “keep at” prayer, fasting and the names of the church fathers that you read and how you find comfort from them. Surely God is good all the time to encourage me even through this blogsite. God be praised!

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Shevaberakhot,

    I agree when you speak historically, but reality transcends history, especially in matters of the spiritual life. Thus, though Christ has emptied hell, defeated the devil, etc., we still deal with the devil, and still, existentially find ourselves in the abyss (which spiritually I refer to Hades, the movement towards non-being and nothingness). Of course He is its destruction, nevertheless we find ourselves there existentially, sometimes willingly (sin) or even as part of prayer for those who are there and sometimes unwillingly (cirucumstance). Regardless, union with Christ is always the answer.

    My use of the term follows the language of Fr. Sophrony whom I quote a lot here. I would recommend is St. Silouan of Mt. Athos as a wonderful read. Many blessings – even an eigth !

  13. tyrporter Says:

    When I was a catechumen, after listening to me ask myriads of theological questions, a priest once told me that as he has grown older he had found that the theological books he read made their way to the top shelves of his bookcase above where he could reach without a ladder and the lives of the saints made their way to eye and hand level because the reading of them bore more fruit in the reading.

  14. tyrporter Says:

    that should have been “could not reach without a ladder”

  15. Ian Says:

    My continued prayers Father; please pray for me.

    I identify with what you, and many of your commentators wrote: Orthodoxy has given me the necessary corrective in my life to practice. I still love to read, and still love learning; but I also know, and try, o how I try, to *live*.

  16. Dana Says:

    Dear father Steven,
    Quite an interesting blog. My daughter got me into looking up orthodox news on the net, while I , being Serbian orthodox, prefer to read in Serbian.

    I studied theology many years ago ( while still Serbia was a very communist
    country) and could write a book about various experiences connected to that. But , my mother-in-law who was hardly literate taught me the true meaning of orthodoxy. I had problems with my first pregnancy, and spent some time in hospital. One can just imagine the stories one hears there. So, after the delivery , with my son safely at home, I started living a sheer nightmare, I installed a microphone in his room and kept checking his breathing every 10 minutes. The old lady took me aside and told me : God gave you this child, and he can take him away. Do not worry, leave it to God.

    This totally wonderful woman released me of all of my fears. And today, I do not worry, I just try to live as modestly as possible and let the God do his work.

    And, some time later, I heard a beautiful story, that perhaps may help you in your search.

    St Sava walked through Bosnia and one day he met a young man jumping over the fence – hop to one side, hop – to the other. He asked the young man what he was doing. – Praying – was the answer.
    So, St Sava said – That is not the proper way, I’ll teach you a prayer . And he taught him -Our father.
    Now, after a while the Bosnian youth forgot the prayer, and started running and looking for St sava. As it happened, he finally saw St Sava boarding the ship and the ship leaving the port. So, off he ran across the water, got onto the ship and St Sava surprised looked at him wondering what the youth wanted. He told St Sava he had forgotten the prayer and came to ask him to teach him again.

    What do you think was St Sava’s answer?

    God bless,
    Dana

  17. Mary Says:

    Father Stephen,
    Thank you for being a priest who cares so much about the inner life. How my family longs to find direction and purification in this way! I think I will pick up a copy of this book. We’re glad you are feeling better.

  18. Alexander Says:

    Father, I’ve been reading for a while a book about Father Joseph the Hesychast. It is both insipirational and applicable at practice, as it contains his life description as well as his inner life teaching. I can’t find a reference to that book online right now but I saw it yesterday in Saint Nektarios monastery in Roscoe, NY. Its table of contents shows exactly these 2 main chapters: “Life” and “Teaching”. I believe, it’s a great instructional book – instructional on how to deal with the mess we’re in.

  19. fatherstephen Says:

    I’ll keep my eyes open for it.

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