Archive for October, 2009

At the Door of Thy Compassion

October 16, 2009

This prayer is printed and framed and hangs among the icons in my church office:

A Prayer of St. Isaac of Syria

isaac_of_syriaAt the door of Thy compassion do I knock, Lord; send aid to my scattered impulses which are intoxicated with the multitude of the passions and the power of darkness.

Thou canst see my sores hidden within me: stir up contrition – though not corresponding to the weight of my sins, for if I receive full awareness of the extent of my sins, Lord, my soul would be consumed by the bitter pain from them.

Assist my feeble stirrings on the path to true repentance, and may I find alleviation from the vehemence of sins through the contrition that comes of Thy gift, for without the power of Thy grace I am quite unable to enter within myself, become aware of my stains, and so, at the sight of them, be able to be still from great distraction.

What Do You Say When You Turn Out the Light?

October 14, 2009

guardian-angelFrom my childhood, I have had a habit of prayer at bedtime – whether formal or informal. There were nights as a child that I prayed with great fervency in fear of what was taking place around me. There were times as a teenager that I prayed with no confidence that anyone was listening. As an adult and parent, some of my most fervent prayers at such times of day have been for the healing and protection of a child, or for the good death of a friend and fellow pilgrim.

My son, at age four, wrote this simple prayer:

Dear, St. Michael, guard my room!
Don’t let anything eat me or kill me!
Kill it with your sword.
Kill it with your sword.

I still like his prayer. It seemed to have been inspired by a small statue he had in his room at the time. I am particularly struck by the petition, “Don’t let anything eat me.” How innocent!

A couple of years back, I wrote a short post on the children’s bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” offering a longer version with which I have become acquainted. Interestingly, it is the most read article ever posted on this blog, daily ranked in the top ten. Very soon it will surpass 20,000 views (not bad for a single article). It seemed that such a milestone deserved a mention.

The comments have been a place of interest, as visitors to the site have added insights and versions unknown to me. There is even a comment from the descendant of Mother Goose’s sister (that may be the most amazing thing on this entire Blog!).

Bedtime prayers remain a staple in my life. Though today I pray for children (and a grandchild) who are scattered across the U.S. I remember a parent and a still-born child who stretch my prayers before the throne of God. As I child I probably prayed to allay my fears as much as anything (the darkness holds many unknowns for a child). As a man in his mid-50’s, I have more thoughts in the darkness about my sins than about “things that go bump in the night.”

For that reason, I think my favorite prayer at bedtime remains a traditional Orthodox prayer of confession. I would be surprised to see this change:

To the Holy Spirit:

O Lord, the Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth: have compassion and mercy on me, Thy sinful servant! Absolve me, who am unworthy. Forgive all the sins I have committed this day both in my humanity and my inhumanity, behaving worse than beasts in sins voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown, from my youth,from evil suggestions, haste and despondency. If I have sworn by Thy name or blasphemed it in thought; if I have reproached anyone or become angered by something; or slandered or saddened anyone in my anger; or have lied, or slept unnecessarily; or a beggar has come to me and I have despised him; or have saddened my brother or quarreled with him; or have judged someone; or have allowed myself to become haughty, proud or angry; or, when standing in prayer, my mind has been shaken by the wickedness of this world; or have entertained depraved thoughts; or have over-eaten, over-drunk or laughed mindlessly; or have had evil thoughts or seen the beauty of someone and been wounded by it in my heart; or have spoken inappropriately; or have laughed at my brother’s sins when my own transgressions are countless; or have been indifferent to prayer; or have done any other evil that I can not remember – for I have done all this and more: have mercy, O Master, my Creator, on me, Thy despondent and unworthy servant! Absolve, remit and forgive me, in Thy goodness and love for mankind that I, who am prodigal, sinful and wretched, may lie down in peace and find sleep and rest. May I worship, hymn and praise Thy most honorable name, with the Father and His only-begotten Son, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Knowledge of God

October 13, 2009

167502985_1130add41dThe knowledge of God, generally spoken of in a very experiential manner, is an absolute foundation in Orthodox theology. Nothing replaces it – no dogmatic formula – no Creed – not even Scripture – though Orthodoxy would see none of these things as separate from the knowledge of God. But the questions I have received are very apt. In a culture that is awash in “experience” what do we Orthodox mean when we speak of such things and what do we mean by such knowledge of God?

There are two Scriptural passages in particular that come to mind when I think of this subject. The first from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8); the second, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

Obviously I equate “seeing” and “knowing,” as does the Tradition. In both of these verses the knowledge of God (“seeing God”) is tied to purity of heart. We do not see or know God because our hearts are darkened by sin and ignorance. Thus any knowledge of God that we have in this life begins as gift and remains as gift. However, it is a gift that is more fully received as our hearts are purified.

The importance of speaking of knowledge of God in this manner is to prevent two equally devastating errors. One would be to have a knowledge which is based only on the data of revelation, and only known as we know other data (like the multiplication table). As an Orthodox Christian I accept the teaching of the Church precisely because I am not pure of heart and I am not competent in and of myself to judge these things. I trust the saints and hierarchs of the ages, under the Holy Spirit, to have spoken truly of what they know and of what they have received.

The Orthodox “experience” if I can use such a phrase, is the confirmation in the heart of the truth we have received as we grow in grace and in purity of heart. But the truth of the faith must be confirmed in such a living manner or it simply becomes an historical item and the Church would be a collection of antiquarians and not the living temple of God. For my knowledge of God is also my life in God. Life, light, truth, knowledge – all of these have something of a synomymous character.

In accepting Christ as He has given Himself to us in His Church, we are also accepting knowledge of Him as it has been given to the Church. Private revelations (experiences) tend to be received with great skepticism either because of the spiritual dangers involved (delusion, etc.) or because of our own spiritual incompetency (sin).

None of this is an effort to disparage knowledge of God in a way that is “experiential,” that is, more than merely rational, but it is an effort that recognizes that such experience of God is itself part of our healing from darkness, death and sin. And just as that healing is a slow and steady progress (sometimes even a regression), so too our knowledge of God is slow (hopefully steady) as we grow in grace and purity of heart.

There is a passage in one of my favorite spiritual novels, A Pilgrimage to Dzhvari, (written by the mother of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev). In it, a mother and her son make pilgrimage to a monastery in Georgia (the one south of Russia). The woman is bright, intelligent and a fairly recent convert to the faith (having been previously a non-believer). In a conversation with the Abbot, she asks some questions about a passage in Maximus the Confessor. The Abbot reacts with alarm, “You’ve been reading the Fathers?” She replies in the affirmative. He is concerned that she may have done herself damage. “You should never read more hours in a day than you pray,” was his admonition.

His concern is that she not come to a place of imbalance – where the knowledge that fills her mind outstrips the knowledge that fills her heart. Such knowledge, acquired without ascesis (prayer, fasting, repentance, etc.) is the knowledge of which St. Paul warns when he says, “Knowledge puffs up” (makes us proud). It is by no means a celebration of ignorance, but rather a deeper diagnosis of precisely the kind of ignorance that poisons our souls.

I have known brilliant men and women, with degrees from very prestigious institutions, indeed with degrees in various forms of religious disciplines, whose knowledge of God was less than my average catechumen, but whose very “knowledge” reduced the possibility of discovering their ignorance and coming to a knowledge of the truth. Again, knowledge that is not accompanied by ascesis is dangerous – no matter whether the knowledge is of an academic character or of a mystical character. We cannot know God and at the same time not be like Him to some degree. Such conformity to His image is itself a result of such knowledge. It is for this reason that the Scriptures tell us that “by their fruit you shall know them.” If someone claims knowledge of God, but his life is not in conformity with the commandments of Christ, then we know that what we are hearing is largely delusional in character.

What should we do?

First, we should pray, fast, repent of our sins, seek to forgive our enemies and do good to all around us. These are clear commandments of Scripture. With such efforts, as God gives us grace and changes our heart, we begin to know. The writings of the Fathers are generally the writings of saints. We will not understand them without ourselves seeking to become saints. All of this, of course, is slow and difficult – but we are talking about reality and our salvation not simply the acquisition of information.

It is, of course, proper, even necessary to study the faith, but this is something we should do with a primary concern for the salvation of our own souls and not the correction of others. The Scriptures tell us: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

Neither should we avoid religious “experience,” though this has gotten something of a bad name on account of numerous abuses within the Christian world of today. But like knowledge acquired by study, knowledge of God gained by experience should be accompanied with ascesis as well. Much of modern Pentecostal and Charismatic teaching has offered false information on religious experience to an audience of Americans who wants everything. Too often we want the interior life of Mother Teresa and all of the shoes of Imelda Marcos. It just doesn’t work like that.

The story is told in the Lives of the Desert Fathers that one of the Fathers was in prayer when the devil sought to trick him. A demon appeared in the cell of the monk (who was in prayer) and said, “I am the angel Gabriel sent from God.” Without looking up the monk replied, “You must be in the wrong cell. I am not worthy for an angel to visit me.” The demon disappeared, defeated by the humility of the monk.

This is a description of the proper state of our heart. We desire to know God, but we want to know Him deeply enough, that we refuse to settle for anything less. Much of modern religious experience, as witnessed by its fruit, has little to do with the true God.

Study. Pray. Fast. Give alms. Forgive your enemies. Repent of your sins. Cry out to God for mercy. He is a “good God and loves mankind.” He will not leave us in the dark nor ignore the cry of our hearts. “This is eternal life,” Christ says, “To know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Thus we pursue knowledge – true knowledge in the way and in the manner given to us as though our life depended on it. It does.

The Beatitudes

October 11, 2009

The Elder Sophrony on the Struggle of Prayer

October 10, 2009

Southwest Trip 164Prayer is infinite creation, the supreme art. Over and over again we experience an eager upsurge towards God, followed only by a falling away from His light. Time and again we are conscious of the mind’s inability to rise to Him. There are moments when we feel ourselves on the verge of insanity. ‘Thou didst give me Thy precept to love but there is no strength in me for love. Come and perform in me all that Thou hast commanded, for Thy commandment overtaxes my powers. My mind is too frail to comprehend Thee. My spirit cannot see into the mysteries of Thy will. My days pass in endless conflict. I am tortured by the fear of losing Thee because of the evil thoughts in my heart.’

Sometimes prayer seems to flag and we cry, ‘Make haste unto me, O God’ (Psalm 70:5). But if we do not let go of the hem of His garment, help will come. It is vital to dwell in prayer in order to counteract the persistently destructive influence of the outside world.

Prayer cannot fail to revive in us the divine breath which God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and by virtue of which Adam ‘became a living soul’ (Gen. 2:7). Then our regenerated spirit will marvel at the sublime mystery of being, and our hearts echo the Psalmist’s praise of the wonderful works of the Lord. We shall apprehend the meaning of Christ’s words, ‘I am come that [men] might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10).

From His Life is Mine by the Elder Sophrony

Raising a Saint – St. Silouan on his Father

October 10, 2009

candlesMost of us would be satisfied to raise children who remain faithful believers. It is not always an easy thing and every parent who has such a child should rejoice constantly. There is no method to raise a child to be a saint, for God alone gives the grace that results in the mystery of such wonderful lives. However that may be, I am often struck in reading the writings of St. Silouan by his stories about his father. It would seem that the most fundamental spiritual lessons are not ones he gained from an Elder, but from the simple peasant that was his father – but a simple peasant with the faith of a saint. A small example:

Let us not be distressed over the loss of worldly goods, such losses are a small matter. My own father taught me this early in life. When some misfortune happened at home, he would remain serene. When our house caught fire and the neighbors said, ‘Ivan Petrovich, your house is burnt down!’ he replied, ‘With God’s help I’ll build it up again.’ Once we were walking along the side of our field, and I said, ‘Look, they’re stealing our sheaves!’ ‘Aye, son,’ he answered me, ‘the Lord has given us corn and to spare, so if anyone steals it, it means he’s in want.’ Another day I said to him, ‘You give a lot away to charity, while some who are better off than we are give far less.’ To which he replied, ‘Aye, son, the Lord will provide.’ And the Lord did not confound his hope.

From St. Silouan of Mount Athos

There is no better way to teach a child Christianity than to actually live it – truly and from the heart. You cannot teach what you do not live.

Anger and a Father’s Wisdom

October 9, 2009

makovskiy_konstantin_peasant_diner_in_fieldIt is interesting that in reading the life of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos the figure that stands out most in his life is that of his (unlearned) peasant father. His father was clearly a man of great faith. St. Silouan thought his father to be wiser than many so-called spiritual fathers. The following story is an interesting account of how a father dealt with anger in correcting his son.

This excerpt is from the Elder Sophrony’s St. Silouan the Athonite.

Young, strong, handsome, and by this time prosperous, too, Simeon [later to become the monk Silouan] revelled in life. He was popular in the village, being good-natured, peaceable and jolly, and the village girls looked on him as a man they would like to marry. He himself was attracted to one of them and, before the question of marriage had been put, what so often happens befell late one summer evening.

Next morning, as they were working together, his father said to him quietly,

‘Where were you last night, son? My heart was troubled for you?’

The mild words sank into Simeon’s soul, and in later life when he recalled his father the Staretz [elder] would say,

‘I have never reached my father’s stature. He was absolutely illiterate – he even used to make mistakes in the Lord’s Prayer which he had learned by listening in church; but he was a man who was gentle and wise.’

They were a large family – father, mother, five sons and two daughters – all living in affection together. The elder boys worked with their father. One Friday they were out harvesting and it was Simeon’s turn to cook the midday meal. Forgetting that it was Friday, he prepared a dish of pork for their lunch, and they all ate of it. Six months later, on a feast-day in winter, Simeon’s father turned to him with a gentle smile and said,

‘Son, do you remember how you gave us pork to eat that day in the fields? It was a Friday. I ate it but, you know, it tasted like carrion.’

‘Whyever didn’t you tell me at the time?’

‘I didn’t want to upset you, son.’

Recalling such incidents from his life at home, the Staretz would add,

‘That is the sort of staretz I would like to have. He never got angry, was always even-tempered and humble. Just think – he waited six months for the right moment to correct me without upsetting me!’

Pray Always

October 7, 2009

610x“Prayer is a matter of love. Man expresses love through prayer, and if we pray, it is an indication that we love God. If we do not pray, this indicates that we do not love God, for the measure of our prayer is the measure of our love for God. St. Silouan identifies love for God with prayer, and the Holy Fathers say that forgetfulness of God is the greatest of all passions, for it is the only passion that will not be fought by prayer through the Name of God. If we humble ourselves and invoke God’s help, trusting in His love, we are given the strength to conquer any passion; but when we are unmindful of God, the enemy is free to slay us.”

Archimandrite Zacharias in The Hidden Man of the Heart


“Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thess. 5:17


“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men ought always to pray and not lose heart.” St. Luke 18:1


“Watch, and pray always…” St. Luke 21:36


I can think of nothing that more clearly illustrates the reality that prayer is communion with God than the commandment to “pray without ceasing.” Were prayer mere communication – sharing information with God – or pleading – asking God to do one thing or another – the commandment would seem excessive. Only if prayer is living communion with God does it make sense to strive for unceasing prayer. The commandment to “pray always” is tantamount to saying: “Live!”

Orthodox tradition has most often sought to obey this commandment through the unceasing use of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (or shorter versions). The quiet repetition of this prayer is not some effort at the creation of a Christian mantra – but rather remaining present to God in a state of repentance.

I had the interesting experience last Sunday in the Liturgy of having completed a sermon that was concentrated on the mercy of God. No sooner was the sermon finished than I returned to the altar to begin the Litany of Fervent Supplication whose response is a triple “Lord, have mercy.” I was struck by the fact that this was the prayer of the heart of the Church. Its repetition throughout the day is a union with God and also a union with the Church.

Indeed prayer is the sound (whether spoken or not) of God within us. For according to Scripture: “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father'” (Galatians 4:6). Thus prayer in its most perfect form is Trinitarian – the Spirit praying in the name of the Son to the Father: it is the sound of God within us.

Fr. Thomas Hopko tells the story of his leaving for seminary and his mother’s advice: “Go to Church. Say your prayers. Remember God.” Clearly a wise woman.

V. Lossky and St. Paul on the Theology of the Image

October 6, 2009

If man is logikos…if he is “in the image” of the Logos, everything which touches the destiny of man – grace, sin, redemption by the Word made man – must also be related to the theology of the image. And we may say the same of the Church, the sacraments, sanctification, and the end of all things. There is no branch of theological teaching which can be entirely isolated from the problem of the image without danger of severing it from the living stock of Christian tradition. We may say that for a theologian of the catholic tradition in the East and in the West, for one who is true to the mainline of patristic thought, the theme of the image (in its twofold acceptance – the image as the principle of god’s self-manifestation and the image as the foundation of a particular relationship of man to God) must belong to the essence of Christianity.

Through the Incarnation, which is the fundamental dogmatic fact of Christianity, “image” and “theology” are linked so closely together that the expression “theology of the image” might become almost a tautology – which it is, if one chooses to regard theology as a knowledge of God in His Logos, who is the consubstantial Image of the Father.

– Vladimir Lossky


St_Luke_writing_icon_250For those who have never been exposed to the “theology of the image” (particularly as it is found in Eastern Orthodox thought), Lossky’s comments may seem strange. However a very short collection of New Testament passages immediately elevate his thoughts to a place of serious consideration. These passages, like many others in the New Testament, are often overlooked or not given careful examination since they fail to fit into many of the interpretive schemes used by many non-Orthodox. A frequent question for me when I am reading St. Paul is, “Where did he get that?” Simple statements by the great Apostle often exhibit a deeply mature theology and reflection – one that cannot be accounted for simply by natural development over time. Most especially, his thought evidences a radically Christocentric reading of the Old Testament – one which echoes Christ’s own description, “these are they which testify of me” (John 5:30 ).

Image in St. Paul’s Letters

Four quotes:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren (Romans 8:29).

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:49).

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation (Colossians 1:15).

…[for we] have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:10).

First and foremost is St. Paul’s understanding that Christ is the “image of the invisible God.” Where does he get this? The most obvious candidate is a Christocentric reading of the opening chapter of Genesis. The Old Testament itself does not make much of the teaching in Genesis that “man is made in the image of God.” It does not carry through as an important theological theme (nor does the fall of Adam and Eve). But for St. Paul (and for the early Church), the opening chapters of Genesis take on a central importance for Christian thought. The entire creation narrative takes on new meaning when read as a reference to Christ.

We can hear this in the opening words of St. John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word…”  The echo of the opening words of Genesis are not accidental – it is a “re-writing” of Genesis – a “re-telling” of the creation story with the Logos of God at its center. Of this Logos John says:

And the Word [Logos] was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The importance of this taking flesh is tied with the Logos role as image of God. “We beheld his glory,” John says. This is the image which we can see. We continues to carry the import of this forward:

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

For St. Paul, Adam’s creation in the “image and likeness” of God is fulfilled in Christ. “The first man [Adam] is of the earth (in Hebrew, “of the earth” would be Adamah). “The second man [Christ] is of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47 ). It is this re-reading of Genesis that allows St. Paul to say that “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” The Genesis story of Adam is a prefiguring of Christ – in St. Paul the final meaning of Genesis is to be found in its fulfillment in Christ. The Second Adam (one of Paul’s names for Christ) is the true image and likeness of the Father – an image and likeness never fulfilled by the First Adam. Salvation in Christ is a “new creation” for St. Paul – in it, those who are saved are re-created and “conformed to the image” of Christ. Salvation as “conformity to the image” is clearly an important understanding for St. Paul – but sadly neglected by many Christians.

In place of the theology of the image, a theology of sin-debt-payment-forgiveness has come to dominate the thought of many. The reading of the opening chapters of Genesis has become focused almost entirely on the fall and the guilt engendered by Adam for all mankind – the first chapter even more sadly relegated to debates about creation and evolution.

Indeed, the 5th chapter of Romans, in which St. Paul speaks of the sin of Adam, contrasted with the righteousness of Christ, can also be read through the “theology of the image” (which makes a very interesting way of approaching the question of justification). But it is not noticed by most that St. Paul’s treatment in the 5th chapter brings him to his summary of Baptismal experience (we should always remember that “chapters” and “verses” are a late medieval invention) in which the theology of the image dominates. There St. Paul will say, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness (homoioma) of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” Likeness, like image is drawn from Genesis 1:26. There is a new creation in Baptism and it is a creation “in the likeness of the resurrection.” Justification is renewal according to the true image of God.

Christ is the true image of the invisible God – the God/Man who makes visible and tangible to us the God Whom we could not otherwise know. He is the Second Adam, the true image to which we shall be conformed. Apart from Christ, man lives in the image of the man of earth, the First Adam, and fails to live according to the likeness of God. In Christ, God makes us to become what we were always intended to become – the image and likeness of God.

It is this “theology of the image” that lies behind the Orthodox veneration of icons – however foreign that veneration may seem to many other Christians. But it is no more foreign than the very theology of the image has become in the modern reading of Scripture. “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words,” is the definitive teaching of the 7th Ecumenical Council. They also point us towards rightly reading what Scripture does with those words.

The Good Anger

October 4, 2009

vm1431My attention was recently drawn to the work of Leon Podles on anger, which asserts that anger has a very important role to play in the virtuous life. He contends:

Wrath is a necessary and positive part of human nature: “Wrath is the strength to attack the repugnant; the power of anger is actually the power of resistance in the soul,” wrote Josef Pieper. The lack of wrath against injustice, he continued, is a deficiency: “One who does good with passion is more praiseworthy than one who is ‘not entirely’ afire for the good, even to the forces of the sensual realm.”

He also cites St. Thomas Aquinas:

“lack of the passion of anger is also a vice” because a man who truly and forcefully rejects evil will be angry at it. The lack of anger makes the movement of the will against evil “lacking or weak.” He quotes John Chrysostom: “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but the good to do wrong.”

Podles’ article gave me pause to think. Elsewhere on this blog I have stated:

I will say without fear of contradiction that I have never seen a single case of human “righteous indignation.” Just as I have never met a man who was pure in heart, neither have I man a man who is pure in anger.

I have great regard for the writings of the Fathers – and certainly for Chrysostom – though I often find that Chrysostom was a broad enough preacher that a quote for almost any position can be found somewhere in his voluminous writings. As it turns out, it is even easier to find a quote of Chrysostom on a subject, if you include in his writings those of the Opus Imperfectum, the source of Podles’ quote from the great Church Father. The Opus Imperfectum is so named, because, though once thought (in the Early Middle Ages in the West) to be a work of Chrysostom’s, it was, in fact, a 5th century work by an Arian Presbyter in the region of the Danube.

This is not necessarily a problem (Aquinas uses the quote most effectively) if the statement is correct. But of course, this raises the question of anger again. Is there a good anger? I offer here an alternative quote from Chrysostom (the real one):

Anger is no different than madness – it is a temporary demon; or rather it is worse than having a demon; for one who has a demon may be excused, but the angry man deserves ten thousand punishments, voluntarily casting himself into the pit of destruction, and before the hell which is to come suffering punishment from this already, by bringing a certain restless turmoil and never silent storm of fury, through all the night and through all the day, upon the reasonings of his soul (Hom. on St. John’s Gospel, XLVIII.3).

I do not mean to offer an academic argument on the definitive position of Chrysostom on anger. I am not a scholar in the area (owning a copy of his works, finding a quote and offering it does not make one a scholar). What I mean to do is bring the question of anger to the place that Chrysostom notes in this last quote. He describes an experience of anger that is a form of insanity, a “temporary demon.”

Podles has an argument – well established in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, that there is a form of anger that is a proper energy of the soul whose absence would even be a sinful lack. The discussion in Aquinas comes from a fairly theoretical section on the passions. As an “energy of the soul,” anger certainly has a place within someone who is spiritually whole. It is possible, as St. Paul says, “to be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26). I will readily grant such a theoretical possibility. Nevertheless, I maintain my earlier observation:

I will say without fear of contradiction that I have never seen a single case of human “righteous indignation.” Just as I have never met a man who was pure in heart, neither have I man a man who is pure in anger.

Just because I have not seen it, does not mean it does not exist.

Podles argues that there is a strange lack of anger in modern clergy (particularly modern Catholic clergy). Podles, of course, has famously written about a dangerous “feminization” of our religious culture – thus it is perhaps possible that this lack of anger seems unmanly to him (cf. The Church Impotent). He cites in particular the failure of moral outrage in the face of sexual abuse of children within the ranks of the clergy.

My experience of clergy over the past 30 or more years of ordained life – whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox – is that anger is not somehow lacking. I have no idea why someone would think that there is no anger among clergy. In many cases, I have found them to be among the angriest people I know. The issue is rather – why no anger over this particular issue? And there, I suspect, the answer would be found. Try another issue and indignation will flow down like rivers.

But this presence or absence of anger is in neither case an argument for a good anger. I again agree that there may be such in the panoply of redeemed passions. However, it is the man of redeemed passions whom I find lacking.

I believe the path to virtue – to right-living in Christ – is ultimately found in the keeping of God’s commandments and the ascetical disciplines of the Church. Most especially do I think this is the case with regard to our treatment of others. In St. Luke’s gospel (6:35-36) Christ states:

love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

His admonition is not unlike that of St. John Chrysostom (after his observations on anger being like a demon):

Let us therefore, that we may deliver ourselves from the punishment here and the vengeance hereafter, cast out this passion, and show forth all meekness and gentleness, that we may find rest for our souls, both here and in the Kingdom of Heaven.

A last point. Podles, following Aquinas and Pieper, argues that the lack of anger results in the failure of a moral will – particularly in righting injustices and in addressing things which must be corrected. This is true, if, again, we are speaking on a theoretical level. We currently have no lack of anger in our public life. And yet, for all the anger, we have little action. Rather, we have the demon of which Chrysostom spoke:

… a certain restless turmoil and never silent storm of fury, through all the night and through all the day, upon the reasonings of his soul….

I have been witness to several major social upheavals. I think particularly of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. There was certainly plenty of moral indignation and little lack of anger (on many sides). Martin Luther King Jr.’s political struggle often included the difficult task of urging non-violence upon those who were rising up in great indignation. It is a great moral task indeed.

My experience is that what progress has been made within the heart of my native culture has been made through mercy and the appeal to kindness and compassion. To a large extent, I believe the same is true in the modern struggle with the rights of the unborn. It is the continued appeal to their humanity and to society’s compassion that has gradually moved hearts towards their protection.

I will easily give way to those whose experience has been other than mine. I can only bear witness to my own heart, in the end. There I find that in the mercy of God I am able to love, to forgive, to do justice and to defend the defenseless.

There may be a good anger – but in the midst of the sea of anger in which we now dwell – it is hard to find.