Me, You and the Other Guy

It has been said that a recession is when someone else loses his job; a depression is when you lose your job. I am too young to remember the Great Depression, though all the adults I knew as a child had come through that period. In 1928, my paternal great-grandfather lost everything (farm, machinery, house, etc.) in the Cotton Market Crash that preceded the Great Depression. My father was four years old and traveled from South Georgia to the Upstate of South Carolina in a farm wagon (grim even for those days). His family took up share-cropping, the poorest of the poor in that farm economy. At age four he began to work, picking cotton, doing anything he could do. Those were hard times.

When I was 10, the local Air Force base closed. My father’s auto repair business was largely based on clientele who were stationed or worked at the base. We lost a lot – I remember a spate of about four or five years in which things were much “leaner” than they had been.

Recessions come and go. Depressions, too, come and go, though with greater impact. Historically, it is of interest that the Great Depression was not a time of increased Church attendance in America. I daresay it was a time of increased prayer. If you’re hungry enough, you pray. America has the strange phenomenon of increased Church attendance usually accompanying times of prosperity. Many other nations, particularly several I can think of in Europe (modern Ireland stands out) have seen Church attendance plummet when prosperity comes.

I suspect that this all has something to do with America’s strange marriage of prosperity and piety. In most cases it is not as blatant as those who preach a “prosperity gospel,” but the prosperity gospel would not even be preached in America if it did not already have a ready audience. On some level our culture equates wealth with “God shed His grace on Thee” (the words of one of our patriotic hymns).

Historically, Orthodoxy has always been resistant to prosperity gospels, they are doubtless kept at bay by the constant presence of the voluntary poverty of monastics. Monasticism is not viewed as a unique vocation within Orthodoxy, but simply the Christian vocation pushed towards a maximum. The typicon (the book which guides liturgical and ascetic practice) is the same book for both monk and non-monk. The non-monk simply does not keep the typicon as strictly. But the ideal remains the same.

This is less obvious in America where a monastic presence has been slow to take hold. But the ascetic ideal abides, nonetheless.

Economies will do all sorts of things – and we ought always to pray for the needs of the world. We ought also to remember that prosperity as a sign of God’s favor is a peculiar “heresy” of sorts in our modern world. By the same token, a collapsing economy may not be a sign of God’s disfavor, either. Judging others is not a work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. Prayer is.

St. Paul teaches us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). We appear to be in a time when you, me, and the other guy will be doing one or the other – with perhaps more weeping than usual. Thus our prayers for the world before God should not be shy in weeping for the pain of others and should be totally devoid of rejoicing at the pain of any.

43 Responses to “Me, You and the Other Guy”

  1. fatherstephen Says:

    Photo: Ruins from part of the Soviet Gulag.

  2. coldfire Says:

    Interesting. I never knew that church attendance did not increase during the great depression. I always assumed it was just the opposite. America really is a unique place. I am not saying it is good, but it is interesting.

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    I sometimes think people were ashamed to go to Church because they could not afford to give towards its support. It is also true that non-Christian political movements grew during the same period.

    The war increased Church attendance and it boomed during the 1950’s.

    I found this: at http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/

    The depression had a devastating effect on the Churches as well as on the nation. In the optimistic flush of the ‘20’s many congregations had built new edifices far too large and expensive. When the depression hit, they found themselves unable to pay. Most carried their huge debts; a few rejected their obligation, thus bringing shame on the Christian Church. Colleges and publishing houses, missionary enterprises, and the social work of the Churches were all hard hit by the depression. Many an institution of the Church lost its endowment in the financial crash and had to close or had to drastically cut back its activities.
    But the physical effects of the depression were only part of its devastation. It left deep spiritual and mental wounds. It destroyed the utter self-confidence of the ‘20’s, and it gave birth to a despair and lack of confidence. What an opportunity for the Churches to interpret the meaning of this event! Yet, the Churches profited little in terms of growth. There was no surge of a repentant people to the Churches. There was no appreciable increase in the numbers of churches. There was no great revival which swept the nation.

  4. Mary in Tennessee Says:

    FWIW: One of my grandmothers (who grew up during the Depression) would not often go to church. Her excuse was usually, “I don’t have a dress,” even though by the 1960s she was financially prosperous. I wonder if it might not have to do (at least a little bit, during the Depression) with some segments of American society not willing to admit to others that they are poor? Being ashamed because it somehow isn’t “proper” for poor people to be in church?
    I remember two teenaged girls at my local Baptist church in the late 1980s. The daughters of a sharecropper, they could not afford nice dresses for church. So they came in their best jeans instead. And they apologized for it! It wasn’t ‘proper’, you see. Their poverty showed, and they were ashamed.
    Shame on the church for making them feel that way.

  5. shevaberakhot Says:

    Rich or poor, what does it matter if we are truly in Jesus Christ?

  6. Steve Says:

    AA was formed in the Great Depression. A different kind of attendance was established, I guess. (I’m not an AA member.)

  7. Karen C Says:

    Father bless! I can’t help but reflect as I read your words here on a PBS special I watched some time ago on the founder of the Rockerfeller empire. This is the man who built the monopoly of Standard Oil near the beginning of the last century using ruthless policies that drove hundreds of small oil producers out of business. I don’t recall the first name of this Rockerfeller patriarch, but what particularly struck me was what fueled his obsessive drive to acquire riches. His motivation came from a species of strict protestant faith and puritan work ethic where he saw himself as having a special call and stewardship from God (and so somehow a “right” and even obligation to acquire as much as he could, so that he could presumably direct it in “philanthropic” ways, and he did establish many philanthropic organizations). Even as an evangelical, I could see the perversity of the stark contrast between his theology (and his dubious application of it that at the same time followed somewhat logically from those Puritan and Calvinist roots) and the ruthless and greedy way he established his empire and even conducted his sexual and family life. What I took away was a real chilling realization of what evil the logical extension of a wrong understanding of God and His will can lead to and how at many points, this evil can have a very convincing appearance of righteousness.

  8. The Scylding Says:

    Karen C – actually there is a lot of consistency between ruthless capitalism and stark Calvinism. At the end of the day it is often Reason that rules – hence Calvinism’s insistence to explain and work-out the mysteries of God. This leads to all sorts of absurdities, like Calvin’s “elevator to heaven” theory when it comes to Holy Communion, or the intricacies of Election as the Calvinists would have it. Therefore stark reason, which often loves stark profit, accompanies those of Calvinist persuasion. This is one of the reasons I eventually abandoned Calvinism – its worship of the mind just did not sit right when viewed in the light of Scripture or tradition or history or the Fathers.

  9. Stephen W Says:

    I have even spoken with people that were ashamed to have church friends over because they thought that their house did not meet up to some type of standard. Even with modest means, It can be fun to share the souvenirs of life that reflect a part of who we are. It is so odd, this relationship that America has with financial success and how even in Church we do not always feel that we measure up. This is odd because, Christ the head of the Church, embraced poverty in all of it’s aspects and meanings. This is not a judgment on those with financial wealth but none of us should ever feel ashamed in our own churches, which are meant to transfigure us into His image and likeness, which can not be measured by success.

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    One particular problem with external measures such as prosperity, etc., for the state of our spiritual life is that it is both not Biblical (as interpreted in Orthodox Christian Tradition), nor does it say anything about the heart, by which we alone are judged.

    We celebrated a saint (whose name has now escaped my wretched brain), who kept selling himself as a slave in order to buy someone’s freedom; only to work his way out of slavery and then to buy someone’s else’s freedom again. Such men you could ask God to prosper.

  11. Robert Says:

    Yes we like to “measure”, to judge, don’t we? We have to keep in mind this is wrong, whether it is against the poor or the rich. In times of these the temptation may be to blame the “evil” rich, but we are warned against this type of generalization and judgment.

  12. CLS Says:

    Amen.

    “I suspect that this all has something to do with America’s strange marriage of prosperity and piety. In most cases it is not as blatant as those who preach a “prosperity gospel,” but the prosperity gospel would not even be preached in America if it did not already have a ready audience.”

    On the above, see http://www.justinpeters.org and watch the video there. It is excellent!

  13. Stephen W Says:

    It can be difficult to refrain from judging others economic situations at times. I happen to be more on the lower end of the scale and when judgments run through my head, I try and stop and imagine all of the factors that I am not aware of. Possibly how much they give to the poor, while I sit tightly on any spare change that I might have. Also I think about how much I have benefited personally from the generosity of financially prosperous individuals.

  14. Robert Says:

    Stephen W.

    Yes that is very good, and likewise we must think of the poor in a non-judgmental way. They may be poor by choice (for Christ’s sake), have given away all earthly goods, or by tragedy of no fault. On the other hand, being poor doesn’t make a person virtuous [i]per se[/i]; likewise riches do not mean God’s blessing [i] per se[/i].

  15. Stephen W Says:

    Robert,

    I am a social worker and often go into the homes of individuals in poverty, who somehow have obtained brand new wide screen televisions. My initial thoughts were that of judgment. I went to a seminar entitled “The Culture of Poverty” and realized that when people hit rock bottom and become depressed they often want to escape this unpleasant reality and medicate themselves with drugs or entertainment. Throw in a disabled child and things become even more complicated. The point here is that we all medicate ourselves in different and maybe less obvious way’s. I started trying to pray for each family as I leave the house but even this can feel like a judgment at times, therefore I try not to single out who needs pray and who does not since we are all in need of God’s mercy and love.

  16. fatherstephen Says:

    CLS

    I watched the video. It’s good to hear evangelicals speaking a clear word in this matter. It is causing great harm to Christianity in our nation.

  17. frmilovan Says:

    Very interesting stuff Father. I know Serbs will usually see pictures of church services from Serbia where people are wearing jeans (both men and women) and automatically we judge them.

    Of course, a lot of that is carried over from communism and just plain ignorance of the people but then again many of the people that go to church go simply to pray. They put their best clothes on, which in many cases are jeans. Also, the fact that many of the churches are not heated and get very, very cold. I know of priests who put their sticharion and then their vestments on over their coats!

  18. Robert Says:

    Stephen W,

    Very astute observations. Indeed we all need Christ. May you be blessed by and through your labors. You are a saint in my book.🙂

  19. fatherstephen Says:

    Fr Milovan,

    Here in the warm, sunny South (of the US) we still get most of our vestments from Russia. We roast through almost every service while our parishioners complain of freezing (we turn the air conditioning low). When we are wearing hats in the Liturgy it is almost unbearable. I have also served with priests whose vests were virtually in rags (mostly monastics). I have given away vestments in a couple of instances to the glory of God – lest I be tempted with greed or the monk be tempted with pride for his poverty.🙂

  20. Barbara Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have been thinking about external indicators of spiritual formation or growth. I am in an educational environment that identifies spiritual formation as one of its outcomes for students (just as, I assume, a priest would identify the spiritual growth of his parishioners as an important goal of his ministry). The struggle many of my colleagues experience with spiritual formation as an outcome is that external measures become the default way to measure success. And…how can we possibly measure spiritual formation. However there is also the reality that without any “measure”, the importance of this goal can be lost, and other less important goals can become dominant. I think this is one of the reasons that most faith-based educational institutions become increasingly secular.

    There is also some indication in scripture that we are known by our “fruit”, or in other words, external factors can indicate internal conditions.

    I know this is a little off topic, but I would love your perspective on what it means to hold in tension the goal of spiritual formation and the difficulty of knowing whether or not you’ve been successful. The word humility comes to mind here…

    Barbara

  21. fatherstephen Says:

    Barbara,

    According to the Fathers, the only measure is the extent to which we love our enemies. This, I think should be taught as the true measure, even if you use something like Scriptural Memorization, etc. as an artificial measure. Just be sure that youth do not think that artificial measures are actually true measures. They can smell it when we’re wrong.

  22. Subdeacon Eusebios Says:

    Fr.
    Thank you and Amen

  23. Barbara Says:

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    I don’t think I phrased my question very well, but thank you for your direction with regard to the Fathers.

    I certainly agree that scripture memorization would be highly artificial and a terrible message to give youth.

    Barbara

  24. shevaberakhot Says:

    Robert,

    “To judge” is to discern and discernment requires us to first to listen the Spirit of the LORD who alone is Judge — He stands over and above all things.

    Hope this helps.

  25. Damaris Says:

    Father Stephen,

    I watched the Justin Peters video and found it a clear explanation of the wrong beliefs in the prosperity gospel. But I know that there are many Protestants who worry that the Orthodox “theosis” sounds very like the Word of Faith concept of “little gods.” After watching the video I see that there is one essential difference, that the Orthodox do not believe that in making man God was reproducing after His own kind. But perhaps you could explain theosis in terms that might reassure people wary of false claims of divinity.

    Thank you.

    Damaris

  26. fatherstephen Says:

    Damaris,

    I tend not to use the term “theosis” because I think it becomes a distraction for the Orthodox (they start thinking in terms of ontology which can be unhelpful on a daily basis). The most common way of stating our conformity to the image of God, participation in his Life, is to ask, “Do you love your enemies?” This is the measure of theosis. Love is the only true measure in our lives and the one given us in Scripture.

    We do not participate or know God in His essence. We know God in His energies, that is, His actions and workings in our Life. God, however, is such that He is one with His energies. All of which gets very technical.

    I prefer the language of transformed into His image such that we are able to love even as we are loved (or to know, even as we are known, to use the Scripture).

  27. Damaris Says:

    Thank you, Father Stephen. Your answer satisfies and challenges me, and it’s in simple enough terms that I can pass it on to others with the same question.

    Damaris

  28. fatherstephen Says:

    Damaris,

    I should add that the Fathers commonly used this measure. Most recently, St. Silouan said it was the only true measure of the spiritual life (love of enemies). I read many who speak about theosis, but do not pray very much and even engage in angry arguments on the internet. Theosis is not an idea, but true communion with the God who taught us to “abide in Me.” This is manifested in our love for everything and everyone. There is no other measure.

  29. luciasclay Says:

    One of several things that I find so refreshing with Orthodox as an enquirer is its distinctly different view of suffering and prosperity.

    You speak of the typicon which governs both the ascetic and the liturgical. That to me is fascinating.

    One of the things that I am trying to get my head around is the rise of the liturgy as we now see it. In recent months I have come to realize that there is no way around the fact that the early church, from apostles onward, was liturgical. Its in the east, in the west, and even was present in the Anglo Saxon church when Rome first encountered it. But the liturgies vary of course.

    I’m hung up on a few things and am not sure how to ask my specific questions here about the origin of saint veneration and such as I’ve read your comments you aren’t an apologist.

    Where can you point me to help me satisfy my mind regarding the rise or perhaps the always present veneration of saints and also of the liturgy.

    Who addresses this for an enquirer ?

    It must have been different for you going from Anglican to Orthodox than from a non denom protestant and/or southern baptist environment to Orthodox.

    Part of me is very very convinced but another part is digging in its heels like a mule.

  30. shevaberakhot Says:

    Lucias,

    I refer to your above quote — “Part of me is very very convinced but another part is digging in its heels like a mule”.

    Think of Peter walking towards Jesus on the waters at Galilee. A simple act of obedience leads to the realisation, a priori, that his logical positivist view of the universe was about to be permanently trashed. In a fraction of a second, Peter realises that God had hidden all things in Christ Jesus and it is at precisely this point that he starts to drown.

    The Truth is utterly beyond man’s philosophical and ontological capabilities. Stop struggling.

  31. Karen C Says:

    Father bless! It was in one of my Christian Education classes at Wheaton College that the instructor asked us what was the best understanding of the biblical meaning of “spiritual.” I don’t remember what students threw out, but I had a lot of superficial externals mostly having to do with making consistent efforts in the spiritual disciplines running through my mind. He then made the statement that true spirituality means to truly love as God loves. Nothing more, nothing less. I never forgot that.

  32. luciasclay Says:

    I made a typo above. I meant to say “I’ve read your comments where you said you aren’t an apologist”. I hope I didn’t leave the impression I was not satisfied with your answers. I have always been blessed by them.

    shevaberakhot I will ponder what you have said.

  33. Theodora Elizabeth Says:

    Thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen. My priest preached about the need to look to Christ and not the economy today. He included mention of a Bulgarian stockbroker turned monk.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26971749/

    I’m in an industry (international shipping) where I see the effects of the economy daily. Hard not to worry – plus I need to stop looking at my IRA daily (online access to it is a BAD thing!). I spoke to my priest several weeks ago about this, as I was getting too caught up in the bad news and not having enough faith in God that he’ll see us through this. Psalm 34 (33) is a favorite of mine (the Communion Psalm for Presanctified) recently.

  34. Alexander Says:

    Father, I just read a letter from Fr. Nikolai Velimirovic on the topic of the crisis in 1929 and just wanted to share it with you. Unfortunately, I can’t find its translation, so I’ll just translate the main points. The saint mentioned that the word “crisis” means “judgement” in Greek. Europeans used to say “it’s God’s judgement” at the times of any kind of suffering. And now, with the word “crisis”, it’s not so clear why the crisis? from whom it comes? and for what goal?
    Then the saint says that the reason for ANY crisis is the sin of falling away from God. And our Lord bring those unpleasant things to His people out of love with the purpose of waking them up to the real life. And these things last until people realize where this comes from and what they need to change.
    Just wanted to share.🙂

  35. shevaberakhot Says:

    Thank you for your original comment Lucias. I am sharing from my own cisterns here.

  36. fatherstephen Says:

    St. Nikolai is entirely correct – and doubtless the “crisis” of the present time is for our salvation as well. A crisis is not the same thing as a “punishment” but a pivotal point in time in which we can correct something that is wrong and move towards God.

    Obviously with a “world crisis” it has a larger meaning, but for individuals, the crisis will differ and be used by them with God’s Spirit in ways that may have a completely different meaning than the larger picture.

    And no crisis becomes clear until we see the love of God. There will be many who preach condemnation of one sort or another. Christ said, “I did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through me might be saved.”

  37. handmaidleah Says:

    Lucias asked about development of the Divine Liturgy.
    Being no expert but having had a priest who liked to tell about this topic – why certain aspects of the DL developed and is the way it is today – one has to go back to the rise of Christianity in Constantinople in the 3rd and 4th centuries (there-abouts). Worship in the Agia Sophia was huge -with thousands of people in attendance. Since the DL is designed to draw us upwards to God visually & experientially by participation within it – the dialogue between God and His people is the reason for the Liturgy, which culminates in His feeding us from His throne (the altar). Everything that is still done in the smallest of Orthodox Churches has a reason (often practical) because of the ancient worship in the Agia Sophia. I would suggest you look there for some fascinating insights.

  38. fatherstephen Says:

    You can look at some of the earliest liturgies in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome, and other early descriptions. The outline of the Liturgy (structure) really has not changed. The movement of the Liturgy has some development within Byzantium and certain prayers developed and became settled for reasons – most often to combat various heresies.

    By about the 9th century things settled into what they are now, with occasional small changes. The Greek Orthodox made some modifications in their typicon (the rules for liturgy, etc.) back in the 1920’s. The Russians and a number of others still use the older typicon. Thus you’ll see some small differences between Greek and Russian usage (mostly if you’re a priest).

    Hugh Wybrew, an Anglican, has a couple of books on the Eastern Liturgy that are accurate and quite readable.

  39. mic Says:

    i had to read one of Hugh Wybrew’s book’s on the Eastern Liturgy for the St. Stephen’s Course, i enjoyed it thuroughly, and would recommend it as well.

  40. Lana Balach Says:

    Archbishop Paul of Finland wrote a book called, “The Feast of Faith”. Easy to read and understand.

  41. fatherstephen Says:

    Yes, I like that little book quite a lot.

  42. Visibilium Says:

    Maybe the “saint” whose name escaped you was Toussaint.

    Orthodox societies have suffered from their own marriage of prosperity and piety as demonstrated by their celebration of abominable Orthodox tyrants who centralized prosperity in their own hands.

  43. Karen C Says:

    Dear Father, bless! It pays to read the comments not just the posts at your blog sometimes. I found here another couple of nuggets of truth for my list of thoughts worth savoring for a while. Thank you, Father, for continually bringing us back in your writing to the only true meaning of a fully Orthodox Christian faith.

    “I read many who speak about theosis, but do not pray very much and even engage in angry arguments on the internet. Theosis is not an idea, but true communion with the God who taught us to “abide in Me.” This is manifested in our love for everything and everyone. There is no other measure.”

    “And no crisis becomes clear until we see the love of God. There will be many who preach condemnation of one sort or another. Christ said, ‘I did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through me might be saved.'”

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