Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | November 1, 2008

A Radical Idea for a Change (and Not!)

There’s a lot of advice out there on the net about the election. For my part, I have no idea whether what’s promised by anyone will lead to anything other than one day following the next just as it has pretty much done so far for all those days before hand. So I’ll leave more concrete thoughts on the event to others.

Instead, I will offer the notion that despite what may seem the case when we wake up to a winner on Wednesday, if “your guy” or the “other guy” (one day we might have more choices here, too) wins, it probably matters less than will seem the case at the time. Yes, the rhettoric and perhaps the symbolism definitely changes from one administration to another, but actions less so. So aside from a change on the society page, the late night comics’ jokes, and some of the other stuff that makes for the tenor of the times, there is less at stake than seems the case. Thankfully, in America, the mainstream tends to be wide and the tide runs both ways – eventually. On more than one occassion, I’ve had to counsel clients over the years not to panic and move money offshore due to unfounded fears regarding a prospective office holder with whom they disagree as there’s little sense either in feeding anti-Americanism here or abroad… or giving in to it.  And all appearances to the contrary, I’m sticking with that advice… no matter who gets elected. We tend to do best when we tend our own garden… even if it does get a bit overgrown, weedy and the like from time to time.

But better than that, I offer words from Archbishop Lazar Puhalo that while specifically addressing the background of systematic prayer and the prophetic ministry seem to echo the need for placing our political leadership in context and not letting ourselves get overwrought.

The hesychasts or holy men and women of any particular historical era are people with a prophetic ministry, a prophetic gift, who have seen the generation of corruption within the Church, a stepping away from an effective prayer life, and an abandonment of the Orthodox Christian system of prayer which we have by revelation. To say that they see some unique corruption in society would be rather utopian. There is always a corruption in society at large, as there was in Israel, in the Christian Roman Empire, including the Byzantine period of that empire. The prophetic ministry in Israel did not concern the world at large, but was concerned with the life of that nation which constituted, at that time, the Church of the living God. The prophetic ministry manifested by the appearance of the “holy men” in the life of the Orthodox Church has not concerned the life of the world at large, but rather has concerned that which impacts directly on the lives of the faithful within the Church. St. Symeon the New Theologian was not overly concerned about the civil society around him, but focused his prophetic ministry on the life of the Church, the monastic communities and hierarchs in particular. There is little use in criticizing civil society while the leaders in the Church are incapacitating the Church’s ability to minister to the world. Ultimately, the witness of St. Gregory Palamas was just as effective after the Turkish conquest as it had been before it. The leaders of civil society, the Paleologoi, Kantecuzene and the Serbian Tsar Stevan Dushan, in their overweening greed and lust for power, incapacitated what was left of the state and rendered it incapable of surviving the Turkish invasion, but the witness of St. Gregory Palamas and the hesychasts strengthened the inner life of the Church, the inner life of prayer of the faithful, and remained a force after the secular state, that pitiful remnant of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire had ceased to exist. The rise of the holy man, usually from among the monastics, with a prophetic ministry, is a gift of grace to the Church. If it impacts at all on civil or secular society it is because this ministry has been heeded and re-enabled the Church to minister to the world in truth – not just the truth of words, but the truth of deeds and of the lives lived by the hierarchs and the people. This ministry is not manifested in histrionic sermons or angry moralist preaching, but in the transformation of the lives of the faithful and the manifestation of such transformed, even transsfigured, lives in the world. The core of this prophetic ministry, this prophetic teaching of these holy men and women, is prayer.

– Archbishop Lazar Puhalo from his: “Point of Faith Number 15: On Orthodox Christian Systematic Prayer”;  Synaxis Press, 1999.

If you feel so inclined, re-read the above substituting a few nation names, a few “groups”, a few leaders… and you could quite readily read today’s election into this. Least that’s how it struck me.


  1. Great quote. Voting doesn’t transform society, saints do.

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