Standing on the Edge

guardian-angelOne of the peculiar marks of life in the modern world is the sense one has of standing on the edge. We are always (it seems) either standing on the edge of disaster or on the edge of some great discovery. Of course, a lot of this is simply the way we market the world to ourselves. But it is an inherent part of modernity to constantly look towards the future and forget the past. This is not to say that our culture is eschatological – we are merely oriented towards constant change with competing visions of light and dark with regard to a relentless future. To be properly eschatological (from the Greek for “concerning the last things”) is to believe that there is an actual end-point that is the fulfillment of all things – the fullness towards which God is drawing His creation.

To stand on the edge of the future is often experienced as anxiety. Like all of modernity, we believe in progress, but the myth of constant progress towards a utopian world has been shattered by the many tragedies of the 20th century. Like previous centuries it had its wars and its oppressive regimes. But unlike previous centuries, we learned that modern wars and modern regimes are apocalyptic in the fullness of their nightmares. We are at least as certain of a bad end as we are of a good end – and, I suspect, more people expect things to get a lot worse before they get better – if they get better.

There are other experiences of standing on the edge. I think that when we confront God, we find ourselves on an edge. As it says in Hebrews, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31). It is not that the living God holds any animosity towards us, or that He intends us any harm. But the Light and the Truth that radiate from Him require light and truth to be present in the one who beholds Him. If we have no light and truth then His presence reveals within us the darkness and the lies that are present.

Any number of times in my life I have stood at that edge. To some degree, every occasion of private confession is an approach to the edge, to see the face of God. “Behold, child, Christ stands here invisibly before you receiving your confession,” the priest says. I have stood beside many, many others as they approached the edge and I have seen the wonders of the effect of God’s Light and Truth.

I can also recall very large moments – such as the time of my conversion to Orthodoxy. In some respects, I stood at the edge for nearly 20 years (and very consciously for at least seven). In various comments by readers, it is obvious that many stand at the edge of Orthodoxy and sometimes for a long time. Was I afraid? Yes, I was. Was I afraid of God? Yes I was. I was afraid of the Truth, of the Light, of myself, of everything around me. I can see now that my fear was baseless and that my waiting so long on the edge held far more drama than was necessary. But standing on the edge can be like that.

Dostoevsky had a feel for the edge. The tension that builds in the character Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment) becomes almost unbearable until the young man at last turns himself in for the murders he has committed. And like all the rest of us who murder (at least in our heart), turning ourselves in, getting past the edge, becomes the path of salvation just as it was for Raskolnikov.

My children, while quite young, became aware that I had difficulty with heights and edges, particularly while driving. A long, high bridge, or a narrow mountain switch-back, raced my pulse and pumped adrenalin throughout my body. I believe it was my son who first came up with the game (though it could have been his sister who is having a birthday today)…  When we were traveling and would reach such a frightful point, he (and his sisters) would begin to shout, “Over the edge!” Which usually sent me into paroxysms of terror and shouts of various threats. They found it great fun. To enter the kingdom of God, we must become like little children. Over the edge!

25 Responses to “Standing on the Edge”

  1. November In My Soul Says:

    Living life on the edge is often seen in our culture as a good thing. Literally pushing life to the edge, too fast, too far, too much.

    But facing the the edge can lead to wonderful things. Like my family’s coming to Orthodoxy. The edge seemed to be a chasm into which we would fall. We fell alright but we fell into the loving arms of the church. Without the courage to creep up to the edge and peek over Lord only knows where we would be now.

  2. Aaron Harrell Says:

    We certainly like to live a life of control. We hold tightly to it, so tightly that when someone shouts, “Over the edge!”, it can drive us to distraction because it becomes so clear that we are not living in reality. I don’t know that I am on the edge of Orthodoxy. There are some ideas about tradition that are truly calling to me and many things about church that seem a little empty. The problem is that I don’t know if I am looking for the emptiness and finding that which I seek ,or if these things are really as vacant as they appear to me. Either way, I believe that I am on the edge of something, whatever it is.

  3. luciasclay Says:

    I can relate to that fear of edges. Thankfully my daughter isn’t real keen on them either so I don’t have nearly as vivid an opportunity as you did to struggle against myself in that manner🙂

    But to your real point there is an anxiety at the edges.

    Regards and thanks.

    Lucias

  4. Zoe Says:

    In my experience, I probably was living the very edge since “age of accountability” (about 12 yrs. old?) for this was the age that I remember thinking a lot more about salvation and the Biblical passages pertaining to it; and how most of the Christians that I knew did not live the Biblical teachings that they uphold. On top of this, in my last year of High School, my teacher in Litirature who w

  5. Zoe Says:

    Sorry, My cursor or my fingers are misdirected, I did not mean to submit this yet, but here’s the rest of what I have to say:
    …..my teacher in litirature who studied to be a Catholic priest but changed his mind and became a Teacher instead, had a very negative influence on
    me. I doubted God and my Christian Faith because of what he said at that time. He asked me if I believe that God is good and when I said, yes, he said, If God is good then why did he created the devil? At that time, I thought to myself that the teacher was right; Indirectyly

  6. Zoe Says:

    Sorry, My cursor or my fingers are misdirected, I did not mean to submit this yet, but here’s the rest of what I have to say:
    …..my teacher in litirature who studied to be a Catholic priest but changed his mind and became a Teacher instead, had a very negative influence on
    me. I doubted God and my Christian Faith because of what he said at that time. He asked me if I believe that God is good and when I said, yes, he said, If God is good then why did he created the devil? At that time, I thought to myself that the teacher was right; Indirectly, God created evil by creating the devil. This is rational thinking. Forgive me Lord. How I wish now that if I had been Orthodox or even Catholic at that time, confession would have clarified my confusion; for I don’t know how much the extent of the damage done me by that unconfessed doubt in God. I am only too glad to jump over the edge into the reassuring Faith and teachings of the Orthodox Church, once I

  7. Zoe Says:

    Sorry again, I cannot control my cursor; it keeps jumping to submit box.

    Forgive me. But thank you Fr. Stephen for letting me air out some burried issues that is still lodge in my brain by means of your post. You don’t know how therapeutic it is. God bless you. I pray and forgive my teacher that sowed the doubt in my young mind.

  8. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless (again)! Another great post!

    “I can see now that my fear was baseless and that my waiting so long on the edge held far more drama than was necessary. But standing on the edge can be like that.”

    🙂 How well this experience resonates with me!

    “When we were traveling and would reach such a frightful point, he (and his sisters) would begin to shout, “Over the edge!” Which usually sent me into paroxysms of terror and shouts of various threats. They found it great fun. To enter the kingdom of God, we must become like little children. Over the edge!”

    LOL! What I wouldn’t give to have witnessed such a scene . . . YES! Over the edge indeed!

  9. Wonders for Oyarsa Says:

    Be glad this isn’t St. Peter’s blog, Zoe. You’re fast approaching the limit of seven times… 😉

  10. Jane Says:

    When I was on a Cursillo weekend (a renewal movement in the Catholic and Anglican churches) I bought a poster which showed a diver poised at the top of a cliff. This was how I saw myself at that time, just about to “take the plunge” into faith. Since than I have taken several plunges, especially the one into Orthodoxy! I love your image of the children shouting “Over the edge!” – it is perfect. We have to keep on throwing ourselves on God’s mercy like that.

  11. Steve Says:

    Nice metaphor Pater. Are we talking Austrian School here?🙂

  12. Zoe Says:

    Wonders for O, I’m LOL. Thank God, I think It’s more like 70 times 7; so
    thank you Lord for allowing me more lee way as far as my errors are concerned. But thanks, WFO, for pointing this out.

  13. kh.kathryn Says:

    I would like to point out that this “over-the-edge” game was in fact, your only son’s idea and not your sweet, innocent daughter. Hmph.

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    That would explain why we through him off the bridge🙂

    I just didn’t want to rob you of credit if you had it coming to you. Happy birthday little khouria.

  15. Dale Says:

    I have been tthinking about adding a personal story that goes along with this for some time but never got around to it until now.

    years back, while still protestant, I had this dream(at least I remember it as a dream… maybe a thought) of myself on top of a building that was burning down. I couldn’t get down through the building because of the flames. Looking over the edge I knew the only way to survive was to jump. There was a firecrew at the bottom waiting to catch me with a net (picture the dumbo movie) and we encouraging me to jump to safety. The thing was it was from a scary height and for the time being I was safe on top of the burning building. I ended up hanging off the side of the edge of the building but obviously that only reduced the height by a few feet so I got back up on top of the roof.

    I “woke up” wwith the realization of this being how I was living my life with God. I knew He was there to save me but I still neede dto jump or at least let go of my grip of the edge while I was hanging. Staying on top meant certain death but it was something I was in control of. Eventually over years I am beginning to let go of myself and trusting God more but it is certainly a daily need. Being Chrismated was certainly a big moment in this journey to safety but I still recognize that piece of me that wants to reclaim all the “authority” for my life.

    It never ceases to amaze me that while I have experienced God actively throughout my life how I can still fight to be disobedient. I certainly aprecieate St. Paul’s words of doing what I do not want ot do and not doing what I want to do. I guess it is part of working out your salvation but I would like to think myself capable of so much more. (maybe that is just my pride speaking.)

    anyways Father Stephen, Thank you for you work here and forgive me a sinner. I just wanted to add a piece of my story that struck me again when reading your post.

  16. Mrs. Mutton Says:

    I’m surprised my kids didn’t think of that one. Probably because I *would* have thrown them off the bridge.

    Several times in my life I’ve had the sensation of being at the edge of a bottomless abyss, and the only other option is to stand and be devoured by the wild beasts chasing me. So I take a deep breath and step off into the emptiness. And invariably, a Hand catches me and carries me safely to the other side — until the next abyss.

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    The Elder Sophrony said: “Stand at the edge of the abyss until you cannot take any more. Then have a cup of tea.”🙂

  18. Dale Says:

    Father bless,

    maybe i am daft. what exactly was meant by that statement.. assuming he wasn’t a tea salesman.

  19. fatherstephen Says:

    It was a word he offered to another monk on Mt. Athos, who, like the Elder Sophrony and St. Silouan, knew something about prayer while standing at the edge of the very abyss of hell (praying for all creation, including the souls who are lost). The word means to do the hard work of prayer, bearing all you can, but then it is alright to back off for a while and have a cup of tea.

    The 4 o’clock tea at St. John’s Monastery in Essex, where Elder Sophrony died, was always a popular moment of the day. Most welcome and most given to hospitality. Sweet memories for me.

  20. RaiulBaztepo Says:

    Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  21. PiterKokoniz Says:

    Hello !!🙂
    My name is Piter Kokoniz. Just want to tell, that I like your blog very much!
    And want to ask you: what was the reasson for you to start this blog?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Thank you:)
    Your Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

  22. fatherstephen Says:

    Piter,

    Thank you very much. I started the blog at the invitation of a friend, a Catholic priest. I occasionally wrote posts for his blog on the Orthodox Faith, and they seemed to be helpful to people who were interested in Orthodoxy. I started this around 2 years ago. It provides both a place for me to write and share thoughts on the faith, and also a place for people to read and learn more about the Orthodox faith. There is much interest in Orthodoxy in America and other places in the West. I serve as an Orthodox priest in a parish that is probably 80% converts to the Orthodox faith. My bishop gave me a blessing to do this writing so I feel that it is part of my ministry. There are many examples in Orthodox history of letters and other sorts of writings by priests and their helpfulness to people. I hope that what I write is helpful to my readers.

  23. sarah Says:

    hey there what and who is this picture of? i have it on a saints bracelet and would love to know who it was . thanks

  24. fatherstephen Says:

    Sarah,
    It’s an old (19th century or so) painting of a guardian angel. Quite popular in rural America.

  25. marie Says:

    Father Stephen, I am Catholic and enjoy your blog very much. We had this picture in our home when I was growing up. My brother and I (he is my “Irish twin”) actually thought that the picture was of the two of us at some time in the past, that we only half remembered. My father I am sure was the one who chose it. There actually was a lot of turbulence at times when we were growing up, so this picture is more representative than I first thought. Thanks for the blog.

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