The Heart of Darkness – the Dawn of Mercy

The Christian faith is not about ideas – it is about things that are. As such, we do not need to cultivate theological systems – we need to know how to live.

This also tells us something about darkness. The dangers we face are not found in mistaken ideas – they are found in the negation of what is. Scripture says that our adversary was a “murderer from the beginning.” It is existence that he hates, though he does not have the power to cause anything to cease to be. It is God alone who brings us into existence and God alone who sustains all things.

And yet, we encounter darkness. I have seen two kinds of darkness (surely there are more). One is the darkness that resembles despair. I have both seen this in others and walked there myself. It is a darkness that is easy to pity and towards which mercy comes swiftly. Despair can take you to the brink and beyond, but it is not poisonous.

The second kind of darkness bears almost no similarity to the first. C.S. Lewis captured a picture of this darkness in his novel, Perelandra. There the “Unman” (Satan using a dead man’s body) pursues an opportunity to cause a second planet to “fall.” There is a great dialog in which the Unman engages Perelandra’s Eve. But it is in less grand settings that the darkness reveals itself. As the hero, Ransom, follows the Unman’s trail, he finds small acts of cruelty, a frog needlessly tortured and left to die; then another and another…. These petty acts of meanness point to a deeper darkness that is simply marked by hatred.

…He told himself that a creature of that kind [the frog] probably had very little sensation. But it did not much mend matters. It was not pity for pain that had suddenly changed the rhythm of his heart-beats. The thing was an intolerable obscenity which afflicted him with shame. It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened….

The energy of hatred is black. The real thing (and I’ve seen it – if you’ve strayed to the wrong places on the internet – even the ‘Orthodox’ internet – then you’ve seen it, too) is a vapid darkness that steals the breath. It cannot be engaged without staining everything it contacts. It bathes in shame and spews it forth. To acknowledge its very existence is to risk a kind of damnation (from which Christ rescues us). It is hard to imagine this darkness as having a human face, but it often does.

I understand the tragedy and the pain of despair. There are those who imagine suicide as the worst of sins, but it is as nothing in the face of the mercy of God. I do not hesitate to pray with confidence for such souls, for though the pain of their darkness was dark to them, “the darkness and the light are both alike to [God]” (Psalm 139:12).

I do not understand the second kind of darkness and do not know how to enter such a place in order to bring someone out. I believe that Christ does so, and that He knows both the path of entry and creates the way of exit. The souls who have embraced such darkness are not beyond the mercy and kindness of God ( “for He is kind to the unthankful and evil” – Luke 6:35). I believe this to be so because I trust in the kindness of God. But I do not understand it.

I believe in the goodness of God. The darkness of evil is not anything. It is not a creation of God; it has no being. It is a direction and a movement away from goodness and being. In most cases it is a stumbling and a falling away. It is only in rare instances that it becomes a willing force that pushes away all goodness and despises existence itself (not its own so much as that of others). This malevolence (literally “evil willing”) is described as a “mystery” in 2Thess. 2:7. God will destroy it.

It is because the Christian faith is about things that are and not theories and ideas, that I often resist various theologies that are grounded in concepts of justice. Though justice makes an attempt to address the problem of evil, it only compounds matters, offering little more than a theoretical need for evil to suffer yet more. Justice is used as well in an attempt to describe Christ’s atonement. But in such models, evil presents a need for balance and payment, when the true existential crisis is the need for rescue and for evil’s destruction. Humanity has no need for such justice. God has no needs.

The sound of human need is more visceral: “Who will go there to bring them home? Who will come here to deliver me?”

I am reminded again of C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra. There, the hero Ransom (whose name and work mirror Christ), discovered that his mission was not to engage the Unman in conversation. Conversations with evil grant a nobility that does not exist. Our own talk about evil with theories of balance and atonement are equally fruitless. Ransom discovered that his mission was simply to destroy the Unman. The Orthodox approach to human sin and the darkness that afflicts us is equally to the point:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

In the book of Acts, it is recorded that God gave St. Paul a ministry for us: ” to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (26:18).

God give us light and destroy the works of darkness.

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Written with prayers for the servant of God, Aaron Kimel. May his memory be eternal!

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85 Responses to “The Heart of Darkness – the Dawn of Mercy”

  1. Joan Proudman Says:

    Wow, what a timely post for me. So powerful, the tears welled up in me. Thank you for all that you share to give hope to the despairing soul.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Difficult subject, but exceptionally well approached. Thank you for posting this Father Steve.

  3. Fr Aivin Kimel Says:

    Thank you, Fr Stephen, for this posting. Aaron’s suicide has been devastating for me, for us. It would no doubt have been equally devastating if Aaron had died in a car accident, but suicide adds a terrible twist: it invites those who mourn to the same despair and darkness that possessed Aaron and drove him to his death.

    I must pray and hope in Aaron’s eternal salvation. I must pray and hope that God will conquer the darkness and fill Aaron with the brilliant light of the Spirit. I must pray and hope that love will triumph and that he will be restored to us and us to him, in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    Some of your readers may find edifying this homily that I preached at Aaron’s funeral: http://goo.gl/bw9vM.

    Thank you again, Fr Stephen. You are a dear friend.

  4. Karen Says:

    Thank you, Father, for this reflection.

    I also read Fr. Alvin Kimel’s homily for Aaron’s funeral. It is a most beautiful expression of hope in Christ. Fr. Alvin, may God make it so! The warning – to grab a box of tissues before you read it – that John posts at Ad Orientem is apt.

    May the Lord have mercy on the Kimel family. May He indeed have mercy on Aaron. May Aaron’s memory be eternal!

  5. PJ Says:

    That image really doesn’t do justice to this wonderful piece.

  6. Steven Clark Says:

    There are no words for some of life’s events. Some things have a horror so deep that they defy speech. If there were any words, they would be something like this.
    Thank you Fr. Stephen.

  7. PJ Says:

    “and I’ve seen it – if you’ve strayed to the wrong places on the internet – even the ‘Orthodox’ internet – then you’ve seen it, too)”

    Amen. The internet truly is the devil’s playground. The other day I stumbled onto an argument between two Catholics and a Protestant. I addressed the Protestant’s errors, but also reminded the Catholics, who were being quite harsh and even cruel, that a large part of witnessing is conducting ourselves with charity and humility. They nearly tore me apart! It was like throwing a hunk of steak into the middle of a pack of half-starved Rottweilers.

    Father, whenever I try to talk about the need for love, mercy, and forgiveness, whenever I speak of the priority of theology of the heart over theology of the head, I am scorned as some self-righteous pharisee. I know sensing a person’s tone is difficult on the internet, but I am always very careful not to be judgmental or holier-than-thou. I am speaking simply from a place of Christian concern and affection. Yet these reminders of the evangelical commands provoke such rage. It’s as though the only important thing is whether the Eucharist is transubstantiated or consubstantiated; or whether the priesthood is Biblical; etc., etc. Not that these things aren’t important — they are — but it’s as though they are the end-all-be-all of faith. I don’t know…

    Thankfully, there are small outposts of light and sanity out there — this blog, for instance.

    One side note: The bit about the frog reminded me of Psalm 36:

    Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.

    Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; Thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, Thou preservest man and beast.

    How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings.

    “Thou preservest man and beast.”

  8. Orthodox Collective Says:

    […] of homosexuali… »See All Of This Item By Clicking Here!« ☆ ☆ ☆ 3) The Heart of Darkness – the Dawn of Mercyhttps://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/the-heart-of-darkness-the-dawn-of-mercy/By […]

  9. fatherstephen Says:

    PJ,
    From Proverbs: Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,for he will despise the wisdom of your words. 23:9

  10. Drewster2000 Says:

    I have seen the second darkness. This post is as close as one should come to it. This is a good father’s message to his children to “just don’t!” concerning evil. Children can make the mistake of being fascinated with it and even dreaming of conquering it.

    We cannot conquer this; we can only flee by turning toward the Light – who is Lord over all and has already overcome the evil.

  11. easton Says:

    but who gets to decide who is a fool? : ) maybe those of us who think we aren’t are the ones who really are…

  12. Dean Arnold Says:

    Wow. Many things to ponder.

    I have often warned friends obsessed with conspiracy theory (much of it probably true–who knows) that it becomes too much meditation on evil. Yes, there is a “mystery of iniquity” and mysteries are interesting.

    Thankfully, Orthodoxy provides a genuine, practical, detailed, interesting, person and object filled lifestyle where I can meditate on righteous things.

    Slightly unrelated: Fr. Stephen, I have acquired over the years less and less taste for abstract theology and philosophy and more for specific stories, histories, biographies, communities, etc. Is that just me, or is this in some way related to your post?

  13. fatherstephen Says:

    Easton,
    “Even a fool is considered wise when he remains silent.” Thus I daily run a great risk of being a fool.

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Dean,
    It sounds much more solid to me. Though I continue to write, my own attention is drawn to the specific. The present post is a response to a best friend’s son’s suicide. My first response was to get in my car and drive to Virginia. The written stuff is only useful later.

  15. PJ Says:

    Any family that has experienced suicide knows what a nightmare it is. But for a priest’s family … My heart goes out to you, Father Kimel. God bless.

  16. easton Says:

    and i too, father. think you get to decide since it’s your blog ; D

  17. eternallypresentfillingallthings Says:

    Fr. Aivin,

    Memory eternal for your son Aaron! May the Holy Trinity show you, your family & all that loved & knew Aaron His graces of love & peace! Thank you, Father, for allowing us to be a part of this very heart-rending & personal time.

  18. Andrew Says:

    Yes — memory eternal!

  19. Michael Bauman Says:

    I have known too many who have succumbed to this particular darkness. It always leaves behind a searing pain and a lot of “If onlies….”

    The “if onlies…” only compound the pain. Take comfort in Christ’s Resurrection for it is real as the darkness is not. Take comfort in the love of those around you as stumbling as it sometimes is.

    By God’s great an unwarranted mercy salvation is there. May he be in a place of brightness, a place of verdure, a place of repose where all pain, sorrow and sickness have fled away.

    Fr. Kimmel my prayers shall be with you, your family and your son.

  20. Margaret Says:

    Memory Eternal! Thanksgiving to God for Aaron’s life the lives of his family members! Thanksgiving to God for your words here, Fr. Stephen, and Fr. Aivin Kimel’s words spoken for his son! Glory to God for All Things!

  21. sergieyes Says:

    The darkness of hate was explored by the Orthodox author Dostoevsky,in his novel, “The Idiot”,meaning the Epileptic. Hate arises from social rejection. Here,Dostoevsky presents the perfidious bourgeoisie of Russia just before the Revolution:

    Plot Overview

    Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin, a fair-haired young man in his late twenties and a descendant of one of the oldest Russian lines of nobility, arrives in St. Petersburg on a November morning. He has spent the last four years in a Swiss clinic for treatment of his “idiocy” and epilepsy.

    Myshkin’s only relation in St. Petersburg is the very distant Lizaveta Prokofyevna Yepanchin. Madame Yepanchin is the wife of General Yepanchin, a wealthy and respected man in his late fifties. The prince makes the acquaintance of the Yepanchins, who have three daughters, Alexandra, Adelaida, and Aglaya, the latter being the youngest and the most beautiful.

    General Yepanchin has an ambitious and rather vain assistant by the name of Gavril Ardalyonovich Ivolgin (nicknamed Ganya) whom Myshkin also meets during his visit to the household. Ganya, though he is actually in love with Aglaya, is in the midst of trying to marry Anastassya Filippovna Barashkov, an extraordinarily beautiful “fatal woman” who was once the mistress of the aristocrat Totsky. Totsky has promised Ganya 75,000 rubles if he marries the “fallen” Nastassya Filippovna. As Myshkin is so innocent and naïve, Ganya openly discusses the subject of the proposed marriage in front of the prince.

    The prince rents a room in the Ivolgin apartment, also occupied by Ganya, his sister, Varvara Ardalyonovna (Varya); his mother, Nina Alexandrovna; teenage brother, Nikolai (Kolya); his father, General Ivolgin; and another lodger by the name of Ferdyshchenko.

    Nastassya Filippovna arrives and attempts to insult Ganya’s family, which has refused to accept her as a possible wife for Ganya. Myshkin, however, stops her, putting her behavior to shame. Suddenly a rowdy crowd of drunks and rogues arrives, headed by Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin, a dark-haired twenty-seven-year-old who is passionately in love with Nastassya Filippovna. Rogozhin promises to bring 100,000 rubles to Nastassya Filippovna’s birthday party scheduled for that evening at which she is to announce whether she will marry Ganya or not.

    Among the guests at the party are Totsky, General Yepanchin, Ganya, Ferdyshchenko, Ptitsyn—a usurer friend of Ganya’s who is a suitor to Varya Ivolgin—and a few others. With the help of Kolya, Prince Myshkin arrives as well, though uninvited. Following the prince’s advice, Nastassya Filippovna refuses Ganya’s proposal. Rogozhin arrives with the promised 100,000 rubles, but suddenly Myshkin himself offers to marry Nastassya Filippovna, announcing that he has recently learned he has a large inheritance. Though shocked at such a generous offer by an honest and generous heart, Nastassya Filippovna only deems herself worthy of being with Rogozhin, so she leaves the party with Rogozhin and his gang.

    Prince Myshkin spends the next six months following Nastassya Filippovna as she runs from Rogozhin to the prince and back. Myshkin’s inheritance turns out to be smaller than expected, and it shrinks further as he satisfies the claims of creditors and alleged relatives, many of which are fraudulent. Finally, the Prince returns to St. Petersburg and visits Rogozhin’s house, which is a dark and dreary place. They discuss religion and exchange crosses.

    However, later that day, Rogozhin attempts to stab Myshkin in the hall of the prince’s hotel, but the prince is saved when he has a sudden epileptic fit. Several days later, Myshkin leaves for Pavlovsk, a nearby town popular for summer residence among St. Petersburg nobility. The prince rents several rooms from Lebedev, a rogue functionary. Most of the novel’s characters—the Yepanchins, the Ivolgins, Varya and her husband Ptitsyn, and Nastassya Filippovna—spend the summer in Pavlovsk as well.

    Burdovsky, a young man who claims himself to be the son of Myshkin’s late benefactor, Pavlishchev, comes to the prince and demands money from him as a “just” reimbursement for Pavlishchev’s support of the Prince. Burdovsky is supported by a group of insolent young men who include the consumptive seventeen-year old Hippolite Terentyev, a friend of Kolya Ivolgin. Although Burdovsky’s claim is obviously fraudulent—he is not Pavlishchev’s son at all—Myshkin is ready and willing to help Burdovsky financially.

    The prince spends much of his time at the Yepanchins’. Soon, those around him realize that he is in love with Aglaya and that she most likely returns his feelings. However, a haughty, willful, and capricious girl, she refuses to admit her love for Prince Myshkin, and often even openly mocks him. Aglaya’s family begins to treat him as her fiancé, and they even hold a dinner party with many renowned guests who are members of Russian high society.

    Myshkin, during the course of an agitated and ardent speech on religion and the future of aristocracy, accidentally breaks a beautiful Chinese vase. Later in the evening he has a mild epileptic fit. The guests and the family are convinced that the seemingly sickly prince is not a good match for Aglaya.

    Aglaya, however, does not renounce Myshkin, and even arranges a meeting between herself and Nastassya Filippovna, who has been writing letters to Aglaya to convince her to marry Myshkin. During this meeting, the two women force the Prince to choose between his romantic love for Aglaya and his compassionate pity-love for Nastassya Filippovna. Myshkin hesitates briefly, which prompts Aglaya to run off, breaking all hope of an engagement between them. Nastassya Filippovna wishes to marry the Prince again, but in the end she proves unable to bring herself to do so, instead running off with Rogozhin at the last minute.

    The Prince follows the two to St. Petersburg the next day and finds that Rogozhin has stabbed Nastassya Filippovna during the night. The two men keep vigil over her body, which Rogozhin has laid out in his study. The epilogue relates that Rogozhin is sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in Siberia, that Prince Myshkin loses his mind and returns to the Swiss sanitarium, and that Aglaya leaves Russia with a Polish count who lies to her and soon abandons her.

  22. fatherstephen Says:

    Sergiyes,
    Next time, you should simply paste a link to the plot summary rather than paste the entire summary into a comment.

  23. PJ Says:

    “Hate arises from social rejection. ”

    I don’t doubt this is sometimes true, but viewing hate as strictly sociological is rather Marxist. Certainly there are millionaire playboys who’ve never been denied anything, yet are full of hate and loathing. A person hates not because society rejects him, but because he rejects God. The most pitiful outcast can be joyous if his heart is given over to God. I am reminded of St. Augustine’s great saying that the heart is restless until it rests within the comfort of the Divine.

  24. sergieyes Says:

    I Apologize. I can certainly post links,I did not intend to be difficult.
    However, you posed no etiology of the second species of darkness. If Dostoevsky has solved this in no fashion, then I do hope someone will formulate the cause for Lewis’ Unman in Perelandra. I mentioned “The Idiot” and once before I mentioned Seraphim Rose’s nihilism. Can you assist us,please, Fr?

  25. fatherstephen Says:

    Segieyes,
    Lewis certain intends the Unman to be none other than Satan himself, possessing a human body. Of course, this is not generally how we encounter evil. The evil of the second sort (in my description) seems almost to take pleasure in its own perversity and hatred. At some point, the human has consented on a profound level to cooperate with evil (though it most likely does not see the evil as “evil”). There are those who seem to have no love for others, on a critique. In another novel, Lewis has a woman who seems, the character observing says, “To have little more wrong with her than her grumbling.” The reply comes, “The question is whether there is anything left besides the grumble.” Dostoevsky states the (philosophical) problem of evil as strongly as it has ever been done in literature (in the Brothers Karamazov), I think. His solution is not an idea, it would seem, but the person of the Elder Zossima.

    Fr. Seraphim’s work on nihilism is a good observation, and nihilism is a classical target of great significance. But I don’t think Rose deals as straightforwardly with the kind of evil I am describing (and avoiding too close a description). As given in Lewis’s example of the Unman, the evil is revealed in some very petty acts. We confused evil with grand figures (like Hitler) whose schemes of world domination are worthy of a Wagnerian opera. Lewis’ describes something that it almost childish, were it not so wicked. Because evil is not anything, when it is revealed it is not particularly grand at all. The truly wicked can shame another soul so deeply that it would barely recover – and do so with a certain relish. To find and reveal the faults of others (which some would confuse with ‘guarding the faith’ or similar nonsense) can be done in a very shameful manner. To spend even a few minutes with such a person may require days to recover.

    I will have to think a while to see if I can remember such a character in literature. Then I would like to forget that I knew it.

  26. Michael Bauman Says:

    Fr. Stephen, the most evil character in literature with which I am familiar is M’Lady in The Three Musketeers. In the movie adaptations of the book, she is never portrayed as she is in the book. There is also the black, tar-like creature in an episode of Star Trek, the Next Generation

    It is of course not human, the evil we are talking about. Human beings are seduced and fooled by such evil, but we can never really embody it. We, after all, are created in the image and likeness of God and the kingdom of heaven is closer than hands and feet.

    As I was reading in the new English translation of Evdokimov’s “Orthodoxy” about the nature of the Incarnation: That God Incarnated not because of our sin, but He created us so that He could Incarnate and bring His creation into union with Him.

    There is nothing but love in our creation. Only those beings not made in His image can be so truly evil. That is why the lake of fire was prepared for Satan and all his angels, not for us.

    It is God’s image and likeness that Satan seeks to destroy because he can’t get at God Himself. He thought he had but swallowed the destruction of his own kingdom in his greed.

  27. Michael Bauman Says:

    One moment of weakness does not make a life evil.

  28. sergieyes Says:

    Dear in Christ Father Stephen; Christ is amongst us! I am very humbled by your deep engagement with my requests. I thought I would be unable to comprehend your words, but the direct things you say for me are very direct and penetrate me in compassion for me. (Father Stephen=FS).FS: “The evil of the second sort (in my description) seems almost to take pleasure in its own perversity and hatred. At some point, the human has consented on a profound level to cooperate with evil (though it most likely does not see the evil as “evil”). There are those who seem to have no love for others, on a critique.” I wonder, can this intense reflexive idolatry be narcissism? It looks as thought you may be describing Hamartya (sin) which is then ensnared by narcissism. FS: “In another novel, Lewis has a woman who seems, the character observing says, “To have little more wrong with her than her grumbling.” The reply comes, “The question is whether there is anything left besides the grumble.” That is from “The Great Divorce.” FS: “I think. (Dostoevsky’s solution to the problem of the second kind of evil)is not an idea, it would seem, but the person of the Elder Zossima. ” That is totally perfect. I know an Orthodox Priest now in Thessaloniki Greece who converted from Methodism to Orthodoxy so he could follow Fr. Zossima. FS:”As given in Lewis’s example of the Unman, the evil is revealed in some very petty acts. ” This is perfect, it is totally true to my experience. I lived in Germany in 1947and encountered some very petty individuals. “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt”, speaks to the banality and blindness of the second evil.
    Now there is one subject that I would very deeply appreciate an explanation of,please. Light on this would help heal some personal spiritual illnesses of mine. FS: ” The truly wicked can shame another soul so deeply that it would barely recover – and do so with a certain relish. To find and reveal the faults of others (which some would confuse with ‘guarding the faith’ or similar nonsense) can be done in a very shameful manner. To spend even a few minutes with such a person may require days to recover..” I have a severe problem with that prosecution which you there describe. A very beloved physician who treats me calls my issue: “porosity”. As if a dry cloth is thrown in dye, it is soaked instantly and sinks into the dye. How can that “baptism unto evil” be cured, please? Any light on it is healing to me.
    I make reverences before Fr. Stephen.

  29. Eleftheria Says:

    Dear Fr. Stephen,
    Bless!
    As per the discussion on characters in literature who are simply evil and make no answer about the evil they had perpetuated: Iago, from Othello.
    True evil arises out of the hearts of men – especially when we give in to thoughts (logoismoi) that ought to be slapped away.
    I, too, have known another priest’s family in which mental illness had its sway and resulted in suicide. My heart goes out to the Kimel family. May God grant them strength and peace and wisdom. Memory Eternal for Aaron.
    In Christ,
    Eleftheria

  30. dinoship Says:

    Unfortunately, the thought “I am not like the rest of men” of the Pharisee – which can assault us at any point- I think is the path to that type of evil Father describes

  31. eternallypresentfillingallthings Says:

    Hello, Fr. Stephen🙂

    I’ve been trying to form a response to the 2nd kind of evil you have written about in this very moving blog for a couple of days. Once again you have struck a note in my heart. Those that have only witnessed this on the internet are very lucky. There are those that interact with it on a daily basis in certain professions, such as the many penal systems throughout our nation.

    The majority of those incarcerated are not this kind of evil. They are impassioned youth that have never been taught self-control or empathy for others, or they are those with drug/alcohol addictions or those with some sort of mental incapacity. Most of these individuals would never intentionally hurt anyone or anything, although their poor choices & circumstances may have resulted in their doing so. Time, maturity, peer mentoring, rehabilitation &/or a more suitable environment will result in these individuals being no more or less dangerous than the average normal person.

    But there are those extremely rare few that are this 2nd type of evil; toxic shame in the extreme that results in, or maybe it is combined with, incredible internal pain. In even rarer cases this evil can be “sensed” which is ironic since as you stated evil has no existence & is not anything. I find it quite the paradox that what is not real, has no being, can be “sensed”?

    I can verify with 17+ years of experience in this environment that you describe it with the utmost of accuracy as black, vapid darkness that steals the breath, bathes in shame & spews it forth…I also personally can testify to the truth of your statement that it cannot be engaged without staining everything it contacts. I would add everyone as it is also highly contagious if left unchecked. I can relate to Christ’s words to Peter in John 13:10 (“He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”) I can practice the healing ascetic practices, attend the services of the Church, & strive against the passions, but ultimately I am still living in this fallen world. Ultimately therefore, I still need the foot washing by Christ to remove this sort of evil contagion lest it spread itself within me; or more properly–I allow it to spread within me, unwittingly or otherwise.

    One does not have to be a criminal to succomb to this kind of evil; & yes, I have seen (supposed) Christians that spew this sort of evil & hatred, albeit unknowingly (usually). We are all capable of hatred & evil; I have seen it displayed to varying degrees in men, women & children of all races, from all economic strata, & even all religions.

    Like you I do not understand this type of darkness (even those trapped in it do not understand) & therefore we cannot “enter such a place in order to bring someone out”. All we can do is try to remain Christ-like (kind & wise) in our interactions with them. As my priest has reminded me “We are all created in the image of God; some just hide it really well.” As you stated they are “not beyond the mercy and kindness of God”; this too I have seen. I am personally thankful that the Holy Trinity is a loving God rather than a just God because I believe that we all have the potential to become this sort of evil, thus meriting His justice. But for the grace of God, there go I.

    I know this has been long & I do apologize. I have one last question: How does one combat or refute theological systems of God’s wrath, justice & atonement? I am currently developing a blog on this topic & how it is frequently manifested in a Christian witness that drives people away from the Body of Christ rather than into it. I plan on researching through the early Church Fathers & using Christos Yannaris Freedom of Morality. I am rather at a standstill as to start though. How do you argue against a preconceived mindset?

    Thank you (again!) Fr. Stephen for your insight!

  32. eternallypresentfillingallthings Says:

    Uh…I don’t know where that awaiting moderation thing came from!

  33. fatherstephen Says:

    eternally present,
    The moderation thing is a mystery. I think it automatically moderates past a certain length (just a guess). It always moderates a comment with a hyperlink.

    As to the question: there is no argument against a preconceived mindset – other than to describe it for what it is. The more successful things that I’ve written on the topic, find a way to introduce the subject that “grounds” things in an experience, story, etc.

    The story of those being driven away by such a witness is a good starting place. It identifies a problem. Problems are always good places to start because they are questions that are begging.

  34. eternallypresentfillingallthings Says:

    Fr. Stephan,
    Thanks for the advice. Now pray that I implement it most wisely😉

  35. Karen Says:

    eternallypresent . . .

    Derek Flood, a Protestant pastor, has some potentially useful stuff on the problems with Penal Substitution here:

    http://therebelgod.com/AtonementFathersEQ.pdf
    http://www.therebelgod.com/2012/06/new-article-abolishment-of-retribution.html

  36. Fr Aivin Kimel Says:

    If I may be so bold. I believe that many of this thread have missed the heart of this fine article. Fr Stephen has not written about darkness in order to invite us into the darkness, to dwell in it, to dwell on it. The darkness has its own attractions. I suspect that we each know these attractions intimately. But the point of this article is the infinite and omnipotent mercy of God.

    I lost my son to the darkness. He reached a point in his life that he could see no way forward, could see no real hope for healing and transformation. All of my words to my son were powerless to save him. All of my love was powerless to save him. And so my Aaron surrendered to the darkness, hoping to find relief from his suffering.

    Ultimately, Satan was the one who killed my son. He was the one who whispered the terrible words of despair in his ears.

    What word of hope does the Church bring to grieving parents?

  37. fatherstephen Says:

    Fr. Alvin,
    The very words of hope that you used in his funeral homily. Christ, our only hope, is greater than the darkness and Aaron’s experience of despair is not the last word in his life. You and I both know the frustration of having this treasure in earthen vessels. Regardless of how great and good the treasure, our own failure and powerlessness leave us facing people and situations that we feel we should have served better. It is the nightmare of “if only,” that has no answer within itself. I can say that “if only” we were saved by grace, then there is hope for Aaron. If only the darkness does not overcome the light, then there is hope for Aaron. If only Christ had trampled down death by death then there would be hope for Aaron.

    For grieving parents – there is hope – but the pain remains. It is the pain of love. I wouldn’t want to love any less, so I will, for the time, bear the pain it brings. I believe that ultimately, our comfort comes from God. It comes unpredictably, unlooked for, much like elder Paisios’ “fox” crossing the road, at the sight of which a man converts. Neither you nor I nor anyone can predict or imagine what that comfort looks like or how it will come (or when). But it comes.

    The first year of grief is just hell. But the comfort comes. There is no process, or book, or thought that brings comfort – because comfort is not a process or a book or a thought. It’s grace.

    God give us grace and comfort you and Mat. Christine.

    Your brother,
    Stephen+

  38. Michael Bauman Says:

    Having lost someone close to me to the same darkness, I echo Fr. Stephen’s words. Such darkness is incomprehensible to those who have never been touched by it.

    I would add that for me, the comfort came in the knowledge of the Resurrection and the knowledge that no amount of darkness could extinguish the light that was in the heart and soul of the one I loved even though it was monentarily overcome.

    The Church prays for the comfort of those left behind and for the light in the soul of the one departed as He forgives our sins.

    The pain will always remain as long as we are in this earth but even that is transformed gradually into a greater love by the mercy of our God.

    And Fr. Kimel please forgive us if we have added to your pain by thoughtless academic excursions to shield ourselves from that pain. I at least, should have know better.

  39. simmmo Says:

    Evil has no ontological being.

    Father I wonder what you think of the alternate English translations of the Lord’s Prayer. Some have “deliver us from evil”. Others have “deliver us from the evil one”.

    As evil has no ontological being, the second translation would seem to be correct. Evil is not something created. Rather we are to delivered from the one who has become evil.

  40. fatherstephen Says:

    Simmmo,
    In most of the Orthodox Church, the language of the prayer is clear that the meaning is “evil one.” In my jurisdiction, it is translated and prayed that way. It is unambiguous in the Greek.

  41. The Orthodox Lady Says:

    Fr. Kimel,
    My truest, deepest sympathies to you and your family. Your eulogy was so painful and yet so hopeful that I was moved to tears. My husband’s father also killed himself in despair after being widowed. No amount of support from all of us was enough to make life bearable for him. My husband has truly never recovered from the loss, feeling guilty and often despairing that his father has damned himself. I believe as you do that God is Love, is merciful, and has already taken my father-in-law into His arms. I will give my husband your words to read in the hope that they will bring him some peace. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

  42. fatherstephen Says:

    Orthodoxlady,
    Thank you for sharing something of your family’s struggles. The assumption that “suicide equals damnation” is an understandable emotional response to what has got to be one of the most helpless of all feelings. But your words that God “has already taken [him] into His arms, is the faith in a good God who loves mankind, and who is not Himself the victim of Divine legalities. Fr. Al’s sermon is the authentic cry of the human heart that is surely not met with stony silence in the vault of heaven.

  43. rivercocytus Says:

    Contra what was mentioned by a commentator above, I think it’s actually the opposite – the 2nd kind of evil is one we are actually required to face and conquer. It is foolishness to take it upon ourselves to ‘defeat’ this evil wherever it might be, but this is the same foolishness of the young man eager to go to war because he thinks of the prestige and not the danger. There can be no ‘war on evil’ in the general sense.

    In particular, I think that both kinds of evil are present in us, and in others, in smaller or greater degrees… particularly in marriage I can see in myself an urge to just be petty – the drive to an ‘undying umbrage’ welling up from, well, I would guess the dying Old Man.

    I think Perelandra is a great parable on this account; the confrontation with this kind of evil in ourselves and in others is inevitably a violent affair. The first kind requires kindness and encouragement, but the second kind requires hard knocks. This is good reason to be careful about trying to identify this evil or psychologize it (as for instance, a form of narcissism) in this sense it’s kind of like love – those who are looking to get it find it everywhere it’s not, but those who are not looking for it will meet it and know they have met it. It is better to assume it is not the thing because it is far too easy to mis-identify.

    It should go without saying that there is no talking with something for which language too is just something to torture and disfigure.

    The presence of this evil in us suggests how some will indeed have ‘eternal being’ but not ‘eternal well being’ (as Maximus has said) – or to put it another way, how God’s judgement will be proven to be just. We tend to ascribe a lot of inscrutability to God’s judgment, but my feeling is that in the end of things the judgements will be so obvious that even a child could make them. There is a veil – a dark mirror as Paul would say – of temporality that obscures the whole of a person. But then, it will basically be all men and un-men.

    This is all to say, these young ones are not totally wrong in wanting to fight, as ‘the Kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force’ but it is sufficient to try to conquer this evil in ourselves – a sortie requiring God’s mercy in great portions – and only to meet it it when it meets us in others. We cannot hope to hide from it.

    (This comment is somewhat of a a response to Drewster’s earlier comment.)

    As for suicides, given that only God knows the heart, it is rash to look at the outward act and assume the inward state. The fools for Christ teach us this viscerally, and the Fathers reinforce it. I have known some whose lives were so full of pain that it makes me wonder if they even knew what they were doing at all at the end. We thank our God for every remembrance of them.

  44. Drewster2000 Says:

    River Cocytus,

    You said many wise things and I don’t argue with any of them, but I will reinforce the point that’s made here that the 2nd kind of evil is often petty and would even be considered childish – if it weren’t evil. We don’t do battle with the evil inside us because it is familiar and boring, because it seems as limited and weak as we ourselves are.

    We want to deal with the glorious version, the huge monster everyone can see and fear, the Nothing from “Never Ending Story”. Little do most of us suspect how close this is to the way evil works, a culmination of all the times the human heart has decided to negate the truth and try to live in unreality.

    But it is through the tedious and boring tasks of dealing with every day evil (which comes with no instant gratification) that our path to salvation lies. As the scriptures say, if we are faithful in the small things, then we can be entrusted with the big things.

    But first, the death of the “old man”. We must follow Christ to the cross and lay down our very lives. And one way in which we do this is to fight the daily evil inside us – and leave the things of the deep that go bump in the night…to the world that spawned them.

  45. Michael Patrick Says:

    2 Questions: Is the darkness of despair what the monks have called the “noonday” demon? What is the origin of this term?

  46. fatherstephen Says:

    Michael Patrick,
    The “noonday devil” (Psalm 91:) is traditionally understood as the problem of “akedia” (accidie in Latin). It is a kind of “listlessness,” the sense we have when we seem to cease being interested in our salvation. Despair would take it a step further. Spiritually speaking, akedia is pretty much the opposite of nepsis (sobriety or watchfulness).

  47. Michael Patrick Says:

    Thank you Father.

  48. Andrew Says:

    Indeed, thank you Fr.

  49. Valja Says:

    Fr. Stephen and Fr. Kimel,

    Thank you for writing about these very difficult topics. I have lost a friend to suicide. He apparently left a note in which he reasoned out his action, which the police used to show that he was of sound mind. I suppose all that they meant by that was that he was not on drugs, because, to me (and the rest of his grad school friends), this came out of nowhere. He had just been awarded a scholarship that would have funded his doctorate and had his whole life in front of him (he was the youngest of our group). His work was full of promise — he had a remarkable mind. What I have since come to understand, though, is that his private world was full of darkness and pain. It was very hard to lose my friend, so I cannot imagine how difficult this has been for you and your family, Fr. Kimel. You are all in my prayers. Your homily was very moving and managed to put into words what I have always felt. Thank you very much for sharing it.

    Surely Christ must have the last word with all of us.

  50. easton Says:

    fr. alvin, so very sorry for your loss. as a parent, my heart cries out for you, and your family. may you in time and love find peace…

  51. simmmo Says:

    Father, I was thinking about the position of annihilationists and I think this post may have shed some light. As you may know, annihilationists hold that the wicked will be eventually destroyed, both body and soul – in a concrete sense. The implication is that it is God who extinguishes their lives and causes them to cease to exist. But, if you are correct, God does not will anything or anyone to cease to exist. He is Life and he is love.

    Is it possible, then, for people to will themselves out of existence? Completely out of existence. Or will it be something like this:

    “About Hell. All I have ever said is that the N.T. [New Testament] plainly implies the possibility of some being finally left in “the outer darkness.” Whether this means (horror of horror) being left to a purely mental existence, left with nothing at all but one’s own envy, prurience, resentment, loneliness & self conceit, or whether there is still some sort of environment, something you cd. call a world or a reality, I wd. never pretend to know. But I wouldn’t put the question in the form “do I believe in an actual Hell.” One’s own mind is actual enough. If it doesn’t seem fully actual now that is because you can always escape from it a bit into the physical world – look out of the window, smoke a cigarette, go to sleep. But when there is nothing for you but your own mind (no body to go to sleep, no books or landscape, nor sounds, no drugs) it will be as actual as – as – well, as a coffin is actual to a man buried alive.”
    – Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (13 May 1946)

    Lewis seems to be saying that the damned here experience something, but in a sense they have been destroyed and are confined to some sort of “mental” reality.

    In any case the exact nature of non-existence, hell etc is probably much more of a mystery than either the annihilationists nor those who believe in the medieval caricature of hell let on.

  52. fatherstephen Says:

    Simmmo,
    Upon reflection, it would seem that the annihilationists’ position is born as a means of “rescuing” God’s mercy. Its instinct is that eternity in hell would be unmerciful (even unjust to some extent). It has the great deficit of concluding that existence (which is one of the greatest if not chief good) becomes evil and worthy of destruction. This, it would seem, is a final triumph of the demonic will to non-existence. The devil wins in these cases – including the postulate that God annihilates the demons.

    The concern for mercy is very legitimate, however. The “Orthodox” solutions to this fall in the realm of the thought of St. Isaac the Syrian. Those “solutions” have never been embraced as the mind of the Church, however, or dogma in any form. On the other hand, neither has the Church condemned them (they are not to be equated in any way with the speculations of Origen – but that’s another discourse).

    God’s mercy and the goodness of being triumph.

    Lewis’ thoughts, (I wonder if he would have wanted his letters published), are perhaps the most frightening imagining I’ve ever heard about hell. I reject it on the basis that the speculation of a “mental” hell, attributes an eternal existence to the logismoi. This would not pass muster.

    It is the heart, the true self, that have to do with existence and eternity. This makes it all the more a mystery.

  53. dinoship Says:

    Thank you for this reply Father to Simmo’s interesting question.
    Lewis’ thoughts are almost 100% identical to Saint Dorotheus’ of Gaza explanation of Hell.

  54. fatherstephen Says:

    Dinoship,
    Forgive. I deleted part of your comment. The tender conscience of some should not even contemplate such accounts of hell – even Lewis’ speculation is more than I should have left posted. May God deliver us! St. Isaac pray for us!

  55. PJ Says:

    Lewis’ idea — existing eternally as a miserable disembodied mind — is indeed hideous. As an addict, I can relate to the compulsive need to lull and dull the mind into tranquility (albeit superficial tranquility achieved at great cost). The prospect of living as a sort of ghost who subsists solely on yearning, envy, lust, etc. puts me into a cold sweat. Yikes.

    However, Scripture makes clear that there is a general resurrection: a resurrection of the wicked and the good alike. I therefore assume that this “hell,” this experience of godless torment, is not purely spiritual or mental, but physical too. It really must be both, for the evil angels are immune to material torment, while humans are properly incarnate souls/spiritual bodies.

    The whole mess is a sickening enigma, part of the larger “mystery of iniquity” that haunts mankind and the cosmos in which he dwells.

    God help us, that we may never come to know the truth.

  56. fatherstephen Says:

    PJ,
    I want to come to know the truth – but only from outside of that particular. However, my confidence is in the mercy and love of God. He tracked me down here and drug my sorry soul through the gate of paradise. Through the prayers of His all pure Mother and all the saints, may He continue to track me down when I stray.

  57. dinoship Says:

    Thank you Father,
    indeed.
    the experience however, – in this life -, of that eternal Hell, even for a few seconds, can be a blessing in disguise. It has the potential to even give a person who has not yet reached the Hypostatic oneness with all Adam through grace, a very similar type (or pre-taste) of that same lament for all of Adam that St. Silouan describes…

    Keep thy mind in Hell and despair Not!

  58. Fr Aivin Kimel Says:

    Olivier Clement once asked Elder Sophronius what would happen if a person does not agree to open his or her heart and accept the love of God. Sophronius replied, “You may be certain that as long as someone is in hell, Christ will remain there with him.”

    As I get older, the vision of universal salvation, as articulated by St Isaac the Syrian, St Gregory of Nyssa, and Sergius Bulgakov, becomes increasingly convincing to–and indeed necessary for–me. I gladly concede that the death of my son has pushed me from being a hopeful universalist to a nearly convinced universalist.

    Human beings are made by God for a hunger for God. He is our supreme Good and Happiness. While we can certain entertain the theoretical possibility of someone eternally denying God, thus bringing upon himself an ever-increasing misery in slavery to his passions, can we actually entertain the thought that that person will not eventually “hit his bottom,” realize the futility of his resistance, and cry out for help–in that very moment finding his salvation? Why else would God permit his suffering?

    It is theoretically possible that if I flip a coin 20 zillion times it will always land head-side up, but practically speaking we judge that to be an impossibility. Eventually it will land tail-side up.

    If God has created us for himself, if he eternally wills our salvation, if he never abandons us, never rejects us, how can St Isaac’s vision not be true?

  59. Karen Says:

    Fr. Alvin,
    I can’t help but be reminded of the promise in Ephesians 3:20. The entire passage in its whole context is one of my favorites:

    14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,[c] 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

    20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

    —-

    I cannot imagine anything better than St. Isaac’s vision, but most Christians cannot imagine anything like that wonderful. I find it significant that this prayer and promise for us is grounded in the experiential discovery of the unspeakable profundity of the love of God.

    These are mysteries we can only know in any true and reasonable sense by taking the journey deep into the heart of God.

  60. fatherstephen Says:

    Fr. Alvin,
    Once we leave behind a legal model of salvation (which simply seems empty to me), and come to the fathers’ grasp of our salvation as deliverance and healing from the deepest ravages of sin, it makes little sense to argue with St. Isaac’s vision. I think that there are obviously things that cannot easily be known (though I think they can be known). You are enduring one of the hardest and most grievous things any parent can endure. There are things that can be known within that experience that cannot be similarly known to others. I sometimes think this is why mysteries such as those spoken by St. Isaac do not form part of the kerygma of the Church. Strangely, St. Isaac’s vision is “hard to hear,” as in, “hard to hear properly.”

    God grant us grace to hear and to trust utterly in the goodness and mercy of God.

  61. dinoship Says:

    Elder Ephraim of the Katounakia Desert in the Holy Mountain, disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, stated a ‘law’: “one can only hold onto that same measure of Grace as the measure of suffering he can endure with gratitude”. It speaks volumes, while showing the connection between these “opposites”…

  62. Andrew Says:

    That’s the point Fr Aivin, if i may — there is always a way back. Perhaps someone can come up with the right words as I can only see the colours of icons these days…

  63. dinoship Says:

    “for behold through the Cross, joy has come in all the world”
    Or as Elder Sophrony used to say: the highest trees have the deepest roots

  64. Andrew Says:

    Sounds good to me..

  65. Karen Says:

    Dinoship, I appreciate the way you keep tossing out those little nuggets of treasure from the holy Elders.

    On the connection between grace and suffering, I was reflecting that since I do not come from a Christian tradition that makes the spiritual disciplines easily accessible, and where I had little awareness or appreciation of the Church’s monastic tradition, that God has had to “impose” a kind of ascesis upon me through my experiences of suffering in order to reveal Himself to me in greater depth. I recognize those places of deepest suffering were what propelled me on the internal journey to the deeper parts of my own heart and that of God.

    When I was a teenager, I lost one my most intimate and deeply-loved friends in a car crash. This was so painful and difficult for me to accept, that I dreamed regularly for many years that she was alive again. While in college, I “lost” my only sister to chronic mental illness. This journey continues to this day, but the first decade or so was especially painful since she did not accept her diagnosis or cooperate with treatment was deeply upset a lot of the time and many times her paranoid delusions propelled her to run away and do some very dangerous things. It was a nightmarish time for my parents and my brother and me. (My sister is still ill and dependent, but symptoms more controlled now with newer medication).

    Just after graduation from college, I “lost” my only brother to a controlling “Christian” cult. He was lost to me that way for over a decade, where we saw each other a couple times a year, but his personality was completely changed and no real intimacy was possible. During this same period, my maternal grandmother (one of the most clear icons in my life of the love of God and without a doubt the most secure “ballast” to my emotional ship) passed away. I also spent two years in Belgium supporting a Protestant missionary and his family in mission work on a large university campus. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor two months after I arrived, and he and his family had to fly back to the U.S. so he could be treated. He never returned, passing away after a little over a year. The result was that a few of us short-term helpers were left to “hold down the fort” and function with part-time help from local Christians and other Protestant groups until a new missionary family eventually came to take his place two years later. By the end of that term, I was completely dried up spiritually. I felt like a spiritual fraud and a failure: God seemed nowhere near.

    Through all of this and more, God continued His refining process until He finally could reveal the depths of His love to me, which is what propelled me ultimately into His Church. So I can do nothing now but thank Him for all that has passed and for those trials that continue, because these are what allow Him to do His work in me. Without them I would never have even caught the little glimpse that I have of the wonder of what St. Isaac came to live within through his deep communion with God. I am convinced that what we learn about God and ourselves in those moments of deepest need and suffering are the most true things that we ever come to know in this life. This is what I hang onto.

  66. dinoship Says:

    Karen,
    I might as well toss another ‘nugget’, in response to your comment (by Elder Aimilianos) : “sufferings are the most powerful, most commonly used weapon in God’s arsenal to bring a soul closer to Him”

  67. fatherstephen Says:

    Karen,
    Thank you for your very candid witness. I think mercy is probably only understood by those who have suffered – those most aware of the mercy that has been shown them.

  68. rivercocytus Says:

    Something is still fishy to me about Universalism, though.

  69. Karen Says:

    I am sure I am not alone in this kind of suffering and to suffer with some awareness of the true God revealed in Christ is much different than suffering without any such faith. In some ways it might be worse in that we believe God exists, but has abandoned us for some reason, but in other ways it brings hope for a better future. The Lord has certainly had mercy on me.

    Rivercocytus, I do not embrace Universalism as a dogma. I only hope and long for it, and that hopeful yearning is the most beautiful thing I find I experience in my faith. I believe it would be true to say it is that which brings me closest to Christ and keeps me seeking a deeper communion with Him.

  70. rivercocytus Says:

    Yes, I think we must, if we are to be as God is, hope that all will be saved. That does not seem, though, to be something we should in any case call Universalism…

  71. dinoship Says:

    Loosely based on St. Maximus the Confessor’s, St Isaac the Syrian’s and St Silouan the Athonite’s “anthropology”, I think we could somehow combine that:

    some people will never want to be saved (especially the demons will not want to even admit to needing any kind of saving), while, paradoxically and at the same time God would never possibly not “do you the favour” and save everyone you have in your heart (which in the Man Christ’s case is all of Adam – just as it is in St. Silouan’s case…).
    God sees every person/hypostasis as a unique aspect of the whole universe.

    We also know from the lives of some Saints and Elders that (as Elder Paisios the Athonite has also said) people who are suffering in Hades (before the Second Coming of the Lord) not because of pure demonic pride, but because of passion slavery and sins, can be saved by the prayers of the saints and the Church, there has been cases of persons who have moved from darkness to light due to the saints prayers…! It is “The Law Of Communicating Vessels”

  72. fatherstephen Says:

    Dinoship,
    Can you suggest a reference on the “law of communicating vessels?”

    Also, can you direct me anywhere or the principle of “anadoche”? I have only one reference to it in Greek usage, in which the author does not translate into English. I wonder how it might be translated, and if you are aware of any particular teachings on the word.

    In the passage where I read it, it refers to a principle of “taking something upon oneself,” or something like that.

    The communicating vessels reminded me of it.

    Fr. Stephen +

  73. rivercocytus Says:

    I consider all of this very relevant, particularly dinoship’s recent comment.. I have placed myself in somewhat of a storytelling role and want to try to deal with the concept of person and judgment in a somewhat Orthodox manner…

  74. dinoship Says:

    I am sorry I have no references Father.
    However, the term “anadoche” -especially ‘spiritual’ anadoche- (Πνευματική αναδοχή) would simply mean becoming a Godfather (Anadochos) in Greek, thus “taking upon yourself” the huge responsibility to teach a child the Faith…

    Elders and Abbots also use the exact same term concerning the monks they tonsure, since they also take upon themselves the responsibility for their souls -as long as they keep their obedience to them…

    I guess that the ultimate “Anadochos” in a sense is our ‘Good Shepherd’ and Lord Jesus Christ taking upon Himself the whole of Adam as described by St John the Baptist and in the Revelations.

  75. mary benton Says:

    Father Alvin, Father Stephen

    I am a visitor to this site, having found it by accident (though I believe less and less in “accidents” as time goes on). I was Googling a concept from C.S. Lewis that happened to coincide with a past comment someone made. I apologize if anything I say doesn’t fit with the Orthodox faith (I am Catholic) but it seems we have much in common.

    I was deeply moved by the article itself before I understood the context of Aaron’s death. Now, having read more and understanding the context, I am profoundly moved. Father Alvin, your homily said so much that is true. (I share your love of Puddleglum’s speech – nothing better can be said in our times of doubt.) I also found that I have said to those who cannot forgive themselves something almost exactly like your concept: “if I can forgive you, you are forgiven – because certainly I cannot be more merciful that God.” You are obviously a person of great faith but I humbly repeat your words to you since you will undoubtedly need them in the days ahead. You would not be human if your heart were not broken.

    I want to share the story (though I risk this being too long) that led me to Google and find this blog. Last week, I had an MRI of my brain and that is an extremely noisy and claustrophobic experience! While in the tube with noises like a jackhammer around me, I went into a deep meditation. I was on a mountain, a holy mountain. And when the noise became too loud, I went higher up to avoid these storms. I found that He was with me there. And the words that came next shocked me, “He sang to my heart.” I felt so utterly unworthy of this…

    It struck me afterwards that I didn’t remember ever reading of Jesus “singing”. But in the back of my mind, I thought I recalled Aslan singing so I entered that into a Google search. And so I found this site and read of your son. My prayers are with you and your family, trusting that God will remain near.

    May He ever sing to your heart.

    (I believe now that these words were meant for you, not me, and therefore it is my duty to share them. Amen.)

  76. dinoship Says:

    Our Lord and God is always there, even in the deepest and blackest of Hells, ready to “sing” and console and save his beloved child, if only we could make Him our God and not our Ego…

  77. Fr Aivin Kimel Says:

    Dear Mary, thank you. I pray that one day I may hear Jesus singing to my heart.

  78. Karen Says:

    Mary, your story reminded me of the Scripture from Zephaniah 3:17. It’s a revelation of the Lord we, perhaps, don’t often consider. Thanks!

  79. Christine Kimel Says:

    Dearest Mary, I thank you for sharing your experience with us. I pray that Aaron is hearing Jesus singing to his heart at this very moment and for all eternity. I pray that I will hear Him as well. As Aaron’s mother I cannot articulate the profound depth of grief, pain, and, yes, guilt I am suffering, but hearing things like your experience give me hope and lighten the burden. On a walk with my dog I prayed to Aaron’s guardian angel to intercede for him and I had a vision of his angel wrapping his arms and wings around Aaron the moment he leapt from the building. He was not alone at the moment of death and that comforts me immensely.

  80. dinoship Says:

    There can never be any doubt that God, and His All Holy Mother, with the help of Aaron’s guardian angel wrapped their beloved Aaron. Those are the moments they come to us without fail, they speak sweetly, “let me remind you of my eternal love child”…
    This is truly the faith of all of our Fathers.

  81. kimfrank Says:

    May God also be with you, Mary, in this difficult time of suffering. I read these words today in a short story called “The Annointed” by Kathleen Hill.

    “We cannot see into the mysteries of another person’s life….We have no way of knowing what deaths a soul has sustained before the final one. It is for this reason that we must never presume to judge or to speak in careless ways about lives of which we understand nothing. I tell you this so that you may not forget it. We may honor many things in life. But for someone else’s sorrow we must reserve our deepest bow.”

    My deepest bow to Mary and the Kimel family.

  82. Christine Kimel Says:

    Thank you for those wonderful words. They deeply touched my soul.

  83. fatherstephen Says:

    Mary Benton,
    Yes! Yes! Yes! God sings – and He sings to us. You may find these articles of interest, here and https://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/the-song-of-god/. The Scriptures tell us that God “sings over us with joy” (Zeph. 3:17). Thank you for your sharing. Thank you for sharing in God’s song to our hearts!

  84. mary benton Says:

    Since leaving my comment last night, the obvious has occurred to me: God is always singing to us but there are many things that get in the way of our hearing Him. While all of our personal flaws are near the top of the list of “ear plugs”, emotional pain is also a major reason we often cannot hear the song.

    Thus, Father Alvin and Christine, through no fault of your own, you may find it hard to hear His heart-songs now because of your emotional pain. However, I suspect Aaron is hearing them quite clearly in eternity. I trust that God has healed whatever emotional pain or illness led him to take his own life. Thus, he is free to hear the singing and would have no reason to resist its beauty. May you be given the grace to continue believing in what you cannot hear now but will someday hear again.

    (Thank you, Father Stephen, for the links. It is the second posting that brought me to your blog via Google. I will read them more closely when time permits.)

  85. sergieyes Says:

    mary benton:”God is always singing to us but there are many things that get in the way of our hearing Him.”CS Lewis discusses this at great length:
    Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. New York: Harper & Row, 1961.Print.

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