Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Beyond a Purpose-Driven Life - Fr Stephen Freeeman

Pentecost at St Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA

I don’t read many blogs. But one I keep an eye on is GLORY TO GOD FOR ALL THINGS by Fr Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox Priest under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America who serves as the Rector of St Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is the author of numerous published articles and the book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. He is also the author of the popular podcast, Glory to God, on Ancient Faith Radio.

I’ve referred to Father Stephen before on this blog. He is scriptural, patristic, sensible and unafraid to push the boundaries of thought. Even when I don’t agree with him - which is not often! - I’m grateful for his stimulus to my own thinking. I share with you here his latest blog entry. Oh that we could take on board what he says here before it is too late!

Americans are known to be "practical" people. Historically, our culture has seen problems, defined them, set goals and achieved results. Though the mechanics of this simple approach seem to have broken down over time, it is still a habit of thought. We like to plan. Businesses have retreats to develop goals and establish a vision. This practice has spread to the wider culture - even Churches have such vision retreats. It is a practice that seems reasonable. How can it be wrong to make plans and set goals?

There is a link between the present circumstance of anyone and the goals they set - and it is a link that is often overlooked or diminished. That link is the steps we take to accomplish any given goal. We desire the future - we desire a future good - and we take reasonable steps to bring it about. And it is in these steps that we lose God and the Kingdom.

The mental habit in which we focus on the end or goal of our actions is also the mental habit that makes us ignore the actions themselves. We may not consciously think that the end justifies the means, but focusing on the end makes us blind to the means, with frequently disastrous results. For in truth, we do not live at the end, but in the means to the end. Or, in proper theological terms, every moment is the end and not the means to something else.

In the Biblical story of the Fall, there is no mention of a desire for evil. Eve only perceives good things. The fruit is "good for food." It is "able to make one wise." It was "pleasant to look at." There is nothing wrong in such goals. The sin is found in the means. I am fascinated by certain revisionist Christian theologies that argue for Eve as a Promethean heroine, seizing the "fire" of wisdom from the gods. Such interpretations are straight from the pit - but so are our own utilitarian justifications.

Sin is found in the means - when we ignore them. But the Kingdom of God is found in the means as well. We are not the masters of history, responsible for its outcome. The outcome of all things is solely in the hands of God. To imagine ourselves to be in charge of outcomes is idolatry.

St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "You cannot achieve good by doing evil." Instead, he taught, "Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved."

The Spirit of Peace is not a goal towards which we strive - it is a gift found only in the present moment. If you are not at this moment acquiring the Spirit if Peace, then what are you doing and why? Do you have something more important to do?

We can acquire the Spirit of peace while doing other things, if we are actually present to what we are doing and are acting in communion with God. Indeed, there is no other way to acquire the Spirit of Peace.

If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1John 1:7).


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