04 June 2010

Being Sent Empty Away

He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. (St. Luke 1:52-54)
All too often, I find myself embattled and in total disaster mode this time of year; it is the perfect storm, really. The weather is nice; the post-Paschal laxity is refreshing; annual depression from sad events some years past revisits. And to top it off, this year, I am dealing with the extremely trying and wrenching illness of a loved one. After the deaths of so many family and friends last year (19 at final count in 2009), it is particularly difficult.

So on top of all of that, I decided to fall off the wagon. The longer I am Orthodox, the more I realize that even though the cure is there waiting, it sure doesn't work unless you take it. Does that make me a Pelagian? Some of my fundagelical friends and family think so (although not too many of them would say "Pelagian"). Regardless, I think it's a fundamental truth: you can believe all you want, but unless you suck it up and do as you ought, all the belief in the world won't save you.

Ah-ha, I hear you say, but didn't the Lord say that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we could move mountains? Indeed He did; but Faith is more than just belief--it is belief perfected by right-actions, by living in conformity with what you profess. As it turns out, that is so very difficult that I see how, by comparison, moving mountains would be a simple enterprise.

Like the father of the demoniac child, I say "I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief" and hope that He will answer the weakest of prayers--because as it turns out, they are the most necessary ones after all. Especially if one does not wish to be sent empty away.

Dominus vobiscum+


orrologion said...

Ditto, though without the deaths or sad events some years past.

I posted my conviction for the same danger of being "sent empty away" here:


Well, it was really just a title for the pericope of the day.

s-p said...

I pray your decision to fall off the wagon is not as much a fall as perhaps a step away from it for a season. You are in my prayers, dear brother.

The Hermit said...

Perhaps I should clarify; the falling off the wagon thing is less of a conscious "I'm leaving" sort of thing, and more of a situation where I suddenly looked around and said "Where am I?" I must have decided this, but for the life of me, tracing back the steps seems like it would lead to an infinite regress. At the end of the day, though, I will not and cannot leave the Church itself (after all, where else is there?), but certain conditions of the soul, besetting sins, and the unfortunate reality of certain troubling situations at the parish-level really have me beaten down. But I need to figure out something. Your prayers, my friend, are greatly appreciated.

orrologion said...


I know what you're going through, generally, obviously. It is a little discussed aspect of conversion to Orthodoxy. There is a testing after a certain number of years. One could probably label it a seven year itch, but mine happened after five years. This has resulted in the high rate of apostasy in North American Orthodoxy - that is, convert Orthodox apostatize at about the same (high) rate as cradle Orthodox.

I think part of it has to do with finding one's level. In converting, everything is possible - conversion, ordination, evangelization, expertise in Byzantine/Russian/Doctrinal history and minutiae, etc. But, then one butts up against the practicalities of both the spiritual life (we are more sinful than we thought, we are less able to pray or fast or prostrate than we thought) and parish life ('no, I don't want to work the Greek Festival - I'm not Greek', being a member of the convert-only Sunday School staff), as well as the purely inter-cultural conflicts that arise between Americans, immigrants, Eastern Europeans, Greeks, rich, poor, etc. all of whom claim their version of Orthodox as the real Orthodoxy.

This is why a more extended inquiry phase and catechumenate is necessary in North American Orthodoxy. We can't be marrying people to the Church after only dating 6 months to a year. We aren't prepared to make the decision required of conversion after that short a period of familiarity. Our relatively modern practice of frequent, unprepared communion makes such extended periods of inquiry seem odd, but we have to learn what Orthodoxy really is before we commit - and our priests (and bishops) don't allow it in the race for numbers (and the need for enthusiastic volunteers).

I can tell you that the other side of this trial is not a return to the honeymoon phase, but it is not painful as was the testing phase. It is more mature, it is more wizened, it is more sober, it is more tolerant, it is more accepting of the continuum of wrongness/rightness in Orthodoxy, it is more patient and humble. In short, it's more Orthodox. But, it's a bitch of a time along the way - kind of like the Cross.

s-p said...

Hermit, Ah... I'll supra-ditto Orr's comment. I don't talk much about it publicly but I feel your pain. I haven't been through so much hell and weirdness and persecution and sheer "gut it out and man your post" spiritual conflict as I have in the 12 years I've been Orthodox. It's easy to say "its for my salvation", but "NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition!!!" I'm a survivor being drug behind the wagon hanging on with a pinky finger. But now that is OK with me. As Orr said, I'm not so caught up in dancing with controversy and taking offense and judging the Church. I'm trying to learn to dance again with the Church, but this time I'm waltzing and not jitterbugging. I know several people who are in your place, some were "monastery satellites" and rabid ROCOR etc. etc. who have said exactly what you said, "I'm not leaving the Church but totally re-evaluating what it is to me." They've stopped fasting, dropped way back on services etc. and have become one of the "nominal people" they used to judge so harshly. But they are seeing balance coming back into their life, informed by the Church not "driven" by it. God bless your desert wandering.

The Hermit said...

Orr--you're echoing everything I've been saying for the last 18-24 months. And, quite frankly, I've been terribly concerned about these issues (especially the lack of good catechism and the troubling frequency of unprepared communion). I could live with these problems, though, since they are large-scale and don't trouble me directly (except on the couple of occasions where convert-friends I've made have apostatized because of these very issues), but right now, I am in a situation on the parish level that is intolerable. And I am trying to decide if it is my stupid, stubborn pride that is keeping me where I am, or patient long-suffering. Given the apparent spiritual effects--and the sober reality of my spiritual track record to date--I suspect it is the former; but that leaves me no closer to knowing what to do about it.

The Hermit said...

Steve...maybe it's more like "Always look on the bright side of life" rather than Spanish Inquisition :P Seriously, though, the preaching (especially on the blog here) has been as much self-directed as directed outward. I am guilty of every single issue that I've ever talked about on here (and how not? I can't write about what I don't know)...but what happens when one loses pretty much all confidence in one's confessor; it is made all the more troubling when he has on many occasions given precisely the right advice, but those days seem to be more and more in the past. I didn't come to the Church to hear what I wanted to hear (or to even be told, "It's ok, as long as you try"). It's not ok; and I'm wondering where the man who used to hold my feet to the fire went. And at the same time, I'm watching our once promise-filled and exciting mission crash and burn, and I'm one of the FEW who is willing to admit that we've got a problem.

Pray that God brings us a new bishop soon. I believe, wholeheartedly, that these problems became much worse when we lost our beloved archpastor to retirement last year. And pray for me, a sinner.

s-p said...

Hermit, Mission work is tough. I've been a founding "lay leader" of two and worked with 5. The two I've founded have been through hell due to circumstances beyond my control, and basically are still works in process dealing with issues. The com box isn't the place for me to converse about it all. Email me privately if you want to discuss/vent.
stevenpaul4 at cox dot net

The Hermit said...

Steve, you're right, this is not the best venue for this kind of discussion. It's a lot like airing the family's dirty laundry in public (which I loathe). And thanks for the offer--I may avail myself of it here shortly.

God bless,

orrologion said...

I think of the process as something akin to training or education. There is a time and a place for immersion in a practice, environment, skill, etc., but then a point comes where some continue in that intensive atmosphere and others go out into the world. For instance, in college one studies all sorts of things about a given area of study, but only some continue on to graduate school, a PhD program and professorships and scholarship. These are like the monastics and the clergy. Others learned all they could or all they needed and moved out into the world to practice a craft related to their studies - they still utilize their learning, but in a different way not wholly immersed in the academy. These are like the laity - especially converts who have to crash course learn everything late in life.

When I was an inquirer, I was often at a service every day of the week - or at least 4 or 5 times a week. It was great. I'd go back to it if I could, but I can't. I can't even do Saturday services anymore due to family responsibilities and limited time at home on the weekend. But, I'm there every Sunday morning with the baby and that's enough. I try to be at least one service for every Great Feast and I keep the fasts as much as I can - which is a decent amount, put not in every detail. I pray morning and evening, but the Jesus Prayer has been very hard during the day. My Bible reading has stopped.

Part of this process also seems to be a lesson in humility. It seems to be something similar to the heights St. Silouan experienced quickly followed by years of spiritual lethargy and despair, the doldrums. Laity (again, perhaps especially converts) seem to experience a similar, though less volatile, arc from the honeymoon of inquiry and conversion to a spiritual lethargy and despair some time later. I think St. Silouan was better for surviving the doldrums, not worse.

All this stuff is hard enough on its own - just being an Orthodox Christian; I'm glad God never let me go to seminary.

Petronia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Petronia said...

Sounds like a very difficult time for you! I pray that God will guide you, making the way clear one step at a time. I'm reminded of the Ladder of Divine Ascent (icon)--my 3-yr-old loves the fact that the demon on the far left, above the ladder, can't drag anyone down or shoot them with a fatal arrow bc they are all too busy looking at Christ and praying. Hang in there!

ps. I'm right there with you on the need to actually take the cure and not just look at it!

Anonymous said...

Dear Justinian, thank you for sharing your struggles. Maybe it is hanging out the dirty laundry, but it is still a warning and encouragement to me. I've benefited by reading through this discussion. I'm glad to know a little more of what you've been going through personally. You were a big part of my conversion, and because of that you have a big place in my heart. I'm very sorry about all that is going on, especially with your confessor and mission parish. I've tasted just a smidgen of it myself lately, so reading this today was quite timely. Converting for me was much like a wedding, with us as the center of attention. It was all so invigorating. Now that it has all passed, we are back to being our little nobody selves again. Our beloved Priest seems too busy for us. After trying, we can't even seem to get him to meet us on his side of town to bless the new baby. I could go into other details, but I won't on this public venue. We've gotten together with our various godparents and there seems to be a pervasive spiritual apathy among most of them. This has been discouraging. The Church has been hounding the parish for money to the point of offensiveness. Barely two months after our baptism we received an eight page "bill" from the Church for over $1800. My dear wife said with all that she has seen and come to know, it was her visit to the monastery alone that would have convinced her to convert. The people there have become our spiritual anchor, as well as the beloved Fathers who have left us their writings. Anyway, I say all of this not to minimize your sufferings at all, but rather to try to share in them, at least a little. You are beloved, both to Christ and to me.