Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | October 8, 2010

Impressions in Molding Spaces

Wherever we are and whatever we do, we make an impression. Certainly as much as we fill the air with form and insert ourselves into the space ahead, we divide and make our way as we go. We mold the air around us, and it flows by largely unheeded… as so often we are simply unaware. Increasing our awareness of the wonder in which we move through the firmament with scant impediment is a means of becoming more and more alert to the gifts which we have been given, and greeting these simple matters for the wonders they are.

It won’t always be so. At some point, our forms will be stilled. And so as we come to think of the stillness we experience in this life ( such as it is or can be… for we remain in constant motion even so) represents a fleeting glimpse of our meeting with the eternity we will know soon enough, and an experience of our memory of those who have already crossed over.

And so I greet the report on our “numbers” and “growth” with joy. We are still small and insignificant, and the humility of our position enables great things. As one priest said to me on my way in to the Orthodox Church, “It’s not a numbers game.” No, it’s not. God only cares about one of us at a time. God being God, He can of course do this all at once without missing a beat… but to us it seems a lonely, solitary enterprise He’s on: Breaking through our intransigent insistence on remaining as it were… solitary, lonely, and independent.

These internet portals through which we encounter so many others of our kind willing to speak their inner thoughts or their outer mumbles aren’t always assuring of our salvation. There remains much unconverted within each of us, and it’s probably fair to say we see much of that in our scribblings, hear it in our minds, and act on it more than we’d like. The unbecoming thoughts of others here and there mirror more of our own than we’d like to admit.

As apparently, there is as much brotherhood among we grumblers as one might hope to find its opposite among our monastics, many repair to monasteries to change their perspective and rebuild a more positive mien. It can be essential. But just as I have always resisted the tractor beam pull of the clerical world for embracing a wholesome lay life – not knowing what that was exactly for most of my life and perhaps not knowing it even now – so I also wonder at those who trek to monasteries and whether the visit actually changes more than the external setting. For isn’t it the internal setting where in fact we seek change? And yes, least I give the wrong impression, there is much need of both at times… and being in the presence of those enduring the labor of the internal change can be moving, inspiring, and  useful. Yet the luxury of actually seizing the opportunity to do so seems hard to win… and for so many of us in “the world” a luxury others indulge us at their sacrifice more than ours.

There is an understanding of place that is here, and with whom I am now… and the holiness of this endeavor and our own struggle here that seems difficult to discern, and yet equally difficult to leave without feeling as if the whole struggle is sidestepped in the process. And yet like any athlete, there comes a time when stepping off the field of play to rest, rethink and recuperate is essential to moving the game ahead. So yes, there is sense in this, and it is not averse to our calling to seek additional “coaching”.

But I think it is important we remember these things for what they are. Our lay calling is so under appreciated – especially by ourselves! that it is wonderful to see, to read, and to be renewed by notes that would reinforce the holiness of our own calling:

As Fr. John (Krestiankin) said, in our days, strong Christians are saved in the world, while weak ones are saved in monasteries. When you confess parishioners or talk with them, you see what amazing podvizhniks (ascetical laborers) there are among the laity, and we who call ourselves monks should learn from them.

I remember once during the mid 1980’s, I was walking with Fr. John (Krestiankin) in the Pskov-Caves Monastery. Suddenly, an agitated young man ran up, “pale, with a heated gaze,” and began complaining loudly, “Batiushka, Moscow is such a disgusting city, a new Babylon! People are godless and terrifying!” Then Fr. John covered the man’s mouth with his hand and said sternly, “What are you saying? In Moscow, forty Divine Liturgies are served every day, in forty churches! There are such amazing podvizhniks living unknown to the world, somewhere on the eighth floor of a twelve-story block building! True saints, such as you cannot even imagine.” I was amazed at the time, because I thought that podvizhniks only lived in distant monasteries, somewhere on Solovki or in Egypt. But now—and this is the truth—I myself see remarkable podvizhniks, simple laypeople, who teach and save me by humbling me, and showing me how it is possible to live in our time in a truly ascetic way, as Christians.

Interview with Fr. Tikhon of Sretensy Monastery

What shines through in Fr. Tikhon’s remarks is the joint mission of separate vocations: There is indeed a link between the Monastery and Parish as part of the local diocese that we see some discussion of from time to time in terms of that which constitutes “normal Orthodox life”. So if there is one reason and one reason only to pray for unity among our jurisdictions by one means or another, the reconstitution of our Orthodox experience in America to integrate our lives into small dioceses of local faithful people sharing a family life together in different stations and vocations as we are called to do supporting each other in love as part of the Body of Christ. I think this would be worthy.

Should we do something else in our Episcopal Assemblies, should we fail to seize our true callings, should we fail to come together in love and ONLY in love, then I think we box ourselves in and only impress the mold in the hidden corners of the spaces that surround us rather than mold our lives as we are intended to do.


  1. Amen. Amen. Amen. Well said, and a great quote. Thanks… I’ll probably steal it soon for something.

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