Volume 3, Number 10

October 20, 2012

Theme: “Help My Unbelief”

Articles:

From the Editor: Help my Unbelief 

By Deacon Jason Ketz

The Necessity of Doubt

By Father Robert Royer

Surrendering My Unbelief to Christ

By Mrs. Miho Ealy

Challenging God

By Mr. Nathaniel Kostick

Faith and Doubt in Our Time

By Father Benjamin Tucci

 

More information on our authors and contributors can be found here. 

 


From the Editor: Help My Unbelief

October 20, 2012

By Deacon Jason Ketz

Unbelief, in Greek ἀπιστία, is understood to be a lack of faith. However, as it appears in the New Testament, the word rarely has neutral or passive connotations. The unbelieving are understood not to be merely ignorant, but deliberately betraying trust (Rom 3:3; 4:20), or withholding belief in God or Christ (Mk 6:6; 16:14). Unbelief is intimately related to doubt, although we can deduce from Matthew 14:31 that doubt occupies the middle ground between faith and its absence. But perhaps the clearest encounter with the term “unbelief” comes from the Gospel of St Mark. The father of a demon-possessed epileptic asks first the disciples and then Christ to heal his son. When Christ tells him that healing is a matter of faith, he offers the famous prayer “I believe; help my unbelief.” But if unbelief is so entirely undesirable, why is it so prevalent? Why can humans of every generation and every culture empathize with the father’s plea to Christ to help his unbelief?

Theologians and pastors of every age have wrestled with the topic of unbelief, and two main tenets arise repeatedly in the various apologies, homilies, essays and reflections on the subject. On the one hand, unbelief is dangerous. It is intimately connected to hard-heartedness, and logically precludes salvation (Rom 11:20; Heb 3:19). Thus, our responsibility is to guard against unbelief by fighting against doubt in all forms. For this perspective, we need look no further than St John Climacus, who, in his Ladder of Divine Ascent, describes doubt and distrust as seeds scattered among us by demons.

While acknowledging the dangers inherent in doubt and especially in persistent unbelief, several saints have also recognized the universality of doubt. It is part of the human condition, affecting us all to some degree. Some of these fathers and mothers of the Church have gone so far as to recognize value in our struggle with unbelief in much the same way that we venerate the ascetic struggle. John of Karpathos expressed this idea sublimely in his Ascetic Discourse: “Your doubts…are far more precious and acceptable to God than any good actions taken by a person in this world.

But how do we understand unbelief when we encounter it today? Is it still hard-heartedness? Or Cynicism? Or something else entirely? And how does encountering unbelief affect us? Should we guard our hearts and minds against it at all times, or do we accept unbelief as part of the human condition, and let it lead us to a deeper relationship with Christ?  Most important of all, how can any of us hope to encounter our unbelief, and overcome it? We know that our Lord teaches, “All things are possible to him who believes,” so how can we learn to respond the same way as the father of the epileptic boy, who declared so memorably “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24). This month’s edition of Wonder features four reflections on the subject of unbelief, each told from a unique perspective.

Fr. Robert Royer explores the mechanics of belief, and locates unbelief as the tension between reality and personal perception, at that moment when we realize things are not what they seem. This type of unbelief is a necessary experience of changing human beings, and we use it to adapt and mature in our understanding. As Royer points out, this model is not without a great deal of emotion – particularly anxiety – but this is our way forward, to a deeper understanding of our Lord and Savior.

Mrs. Miho Ealy reflects upon her personal encounters with unbelief in a hospital chaplaincy setting. Not only do patients struggle with unbelief, but merely encountering their struggles has led to doubt of her own. But, like her patients, Ealy searches for answers directly within the hardships and struggles themselves, and finds a powerful spiritual insight that she shares with her readers: to ask our Lord for help with our unbelief requires us to surrender to His plan.

Mr. Nathaniel Kostick leads his readers on a moving journey through his own past struggles with unbelief, and offers invaluable insight on practical ways of steering through doubt and preventing our struggles from decaying into outright rejection of our Lord. As he points out, such a practical response to doubt seems so simple and obvious, yet we are all incredibly reluctant to face our challenges head-on, despite everything we already know and believe about our Lord and his willingness to help us.

Fr. Benjamin Tucci rounds off our collection of essays with a pastoral message. He explores doubt in our own times, with the reasoning of the saints and ascetics of old. Juxtaposing our heavenly desire to experience God with our earthly desire to experience “the flesh” in all its forms, Tucci lays bare our tendency to mistake doubt as our impulse to sin. He challenges us to differentiate between these problems, as the shift from spiritually uplifting doubt to ruinous hard-heartedness  and despondency happens far too easily, and proves to be a one-way journey for many people. His message includes a theme that we must protect ourselves with an ascetic approach to life, remembering that the salvation promised to us by Jesus Christ begins with crucifixion.

All four of these writers have struggled with unbelief, and each has found the courage to utter the prayer of the epileptic’s father: “Help my unbelief.” These four have shared with us something of their experiences, and I urge you all to take the time to read and reflect upon these brief writings. We welcome responses on our discussion forum under each article, but even if you wish to remain silent, we appreciate your patronage. In keeping with this month’s theme, we hope that these articles help you ‘grow strong in faith and give glory to God.’ (cf. Rom 4:20).


The Necessity of Doubt

October 20, 2012

By Father Robert Royer

“Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” So utters the father of a demon-possessed epileptic son when confronted with the presence and the power of Christ (Mk 9:24). Notice how this father encapsulates, in this one sentence, something that we are all, in some fashion, accustomed to: the simultaneity of faith and doubt. As individuals we are accustomed to the realities of faith and doubt. We are aware, from our own lives, how doubt and faith are in a constant dance with each other, how they play off of each other and how each needs the other to exist and to grow. It is a paradox of reality that this is the case.

The New Testament and the pastoral legacy of Christian history do not shy away from this paradox. The letter to the Hebrews is a highly structured writing offering encouragement to people not to lose faith, to give into doubt, to apostasy.

Perhaps the most helpful thing to do, before we do anything else, is to understand what it is we are talking about.  First, faith is not credulity; it does not, as Karen Armstrong says, believe 20 impossible things before breakfast.  Also,it does not, as the Sunday school class answered when asked what faith is by their teacher, believe something we know to be false. As Brian McGrath Davis reminds us:

“Faith” has its etymological roots in the Greek pistis, “trust; commitment; loyalty; engagement.” Jerome translated pistis into the Latin fides (“loyalty”) and credo (which was from cor do, “I give my heart”). The translators of the first King James Bible translated credo into the English “belief,” which came from the Middle English bileven (“to prize; to value; to hold dear”).[1]

“I Believe…”

This is a fine definition of faith. So what, then, is doubt? Most of us are intimately aware of doubt as a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction. We are used to different kinds of doubt. In a scientific paradigm, doubt is essential tool for arriving at the veracity of a hypothesis; it can assist in leading to greater surety. In a personal sense, doubt is often accompanied by fear, anxiety or metal distress because it challenges the assumptions we have about reality and how we understand that reality. (It is perhaps worth an entire reflection itself as to how the rise of a secularized scientism has actually contributed, needlessly, to some of our personal anxieties, not the least in reference to the “knowability” of the Divine.)

So what place, what function, can doubt serve the Christian? I believe that the doubt that causes the disturbance in our inmost selves, paradoxically, is intimately connected with the presence of love. Love is attachment, love is investment, love is a giving of one’s self body, mind, spirit, flesh and bone totally to another; whether that “another” is someone, something, an ideal, etc. But all of these things are the product of our interaction with the beloved.  Like it or not it is our mind, our reflection and interaction with the image we create within ourselves that makes something “real” for us.  This beloved, this construct, is the thing in which we place our faith.

When something happens to cause us to re-evaluate this “reality”, this construct of ours, it often causes us great internal anxiety because we recognize that the idea of our “beloved” needs to change. This is extremely distressing when we speak of doubt in reference to God, because our ideas, our internal constructs and formulations about God are a “reality” for us that matter dearly.

Nevertheless we are changing beings. Our lives change, our outlooks change, our values change and our priorities change. Because we are alive we are constantly adapting and changing. But because we are simultaneously in relationships with others who are also changing the dynamic of interpersonal relationship and knowability is a daunting undertaking because this means that my constructs and my “faith” in the thing that I “know” has to develop, change and grow. If it doesn’t, if I do not alter my perception to accord with the new reality, with a new revelation of who the person in front of me is, than I don’t know that person truly. Rather, I know them as they were, as I was, as I understood them to be at a given time.

We experience this adaptation constantly in our understandings of each other. Take any relationship. How will my construct – my internal picture of another – correspond to the dynamism of “knowing” a living being? I have been married for almost 17 years and my wife is the same person and yet radically different that the one whom I married 17 years ago. I have no doubt she would say the same about me. My mental image, my internal icon of her has had to be refined when needed, changed when called for. The dynamism of living persons in relationship, the difficulties of life, having children, moving, etc., has afforded me many opportunities to reflect anew upon the great depth of who she continues to reveal herself to be to me. That sort opportunity has the potential to be scary and painful (so the cliché, “Did I ever even really know that person?”) or profound in learning the depth of my beloved.

Usually these changes happen slowly in relationships, but even so, they are accompanied by feelings of anxiety. I would posit that the anxiety, the struggle that is manifested in these instances is a form of doubt. We are not used to framing it in such a way, but I think it corresponds with reality.

Thus, doubt can function as a reorientation. When doubt happens in our relation to God, It can be God’s way, his process of bringing us into a more realistic understanding of Who He Is. In every liturgy we name God as “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible” and yet we operate as people who forget the reality of those words. The ideas that we have about God, those that we receive from others, that we take for granted are always in danger of shifting and changing, but this is a needful and appropriate response as we get older, as we are challenged with new realities, and new situations in our lives. Doubt can function as a corrective to our unintended hubris that it is God we are slowly coming to know, or trying to know, and not our own ideas about God that we are trying to maintain.

Doubt is necessary, whether in continually developing interpersonal relationships, or in terms of our relation to God. Without doubt we remain in childlike naïveté, with castles built on sand. But life will bring storms and those sands will shift. Do we say there is no God because reality no longer corresponds to that simplistic construct? Or do we allow reality to deepen our awareness of God’s reality? As the author of the Cloud of Unknowing says, “you must step…stoutly but deftly, with a devout…struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.”[2]


[1] Brian McGrath Davis, “Religion is Not About Belief: Karen Armstrong’s The Case For God,”  Religion Dispatches Nov 3, 2009.

[2] The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works. Penguin Classics. 2001. Translated by A. C. Spearing


Surrendering My Unbelief to Christ

October 20, 2012

By Mrs. Miho Ealy

It’s been a little over a month since I started working in a hospital as a chaplain resident. The hospital I work for is very large. Every day new patients are admitted. Many births and a few deaths happen on a daily basis. Yes, it is hospital life. But, I’m just in awe of the number of sick people. So many of them! In our daily life, we do see doctors and maybe visit hospitals once in a while. However, how many people like to stay in a hospital? I don’t think it’s a popular thing to do. To be honest, it is not pleasant being a patient. You’re far away from home. You’re not with your family and friends. You’re sick and need some assistance for a lot of things that you used to be able to do by yourself without even thinking twice. Your freedom is limited, because you probably have to follow certain rules and may have to share a room with someone else. You can’t eat what you want. It’s just not as same as your home.

Not the same as home

One of the hospital chaplains’ missions is to provide patients and their family moral and spiritual support. Many people ask me what I do as a chaplain. I answer, “I try to make myself available to the people when they need some support.” My work is not to preach the Good News (!) to sick people, but it is rather to help people find a way to connect with a transcendent power in the time of distress. For Christians, this transcendent power comes from Christ. For Native Americans, it may be spirits in the forest. For Buddhists, it may be a superior existence of the universe. As an Orthodox Christian, I would describe this transcendent power as the Holy Spirit and Christ’s mercy.

How can we find a way to connect to God? First, we must really believe Christ is our savior. As Christians, sometimes it is not easy to admit that He is God; to really believe that Christ is our savior. My biggest question is “How can the son of a human being be God?” My brain knows the basic teachings of the church on Christ’s nature. Yet, my heart still has many question marks about my faith. Do I really believe in Christ? Well, I have to admit that faith in Christ is still a struggle for me at times, and I don’t know how strong my faith is. Through my experience as a hospital chaplain, I feel I am given the chance to really see what is required of me to believe in Christ. And it seems that the biggest thing I must do is surrender to God’s plan.

One of my assigned units is a rehabilitation center. There I see many people with spinal cord injuries and some of them are paralyzed. When I approach them, some tell me their stories. I’ve met a few people who had unfortunate accidents while they were drinking alcohol. One woman said to me, “I can’t remember what happened. I just wanted to feel numb.” This phrase “feel numb” sounds familiar to me. When I’m feeling sad or disappointed, I sometimes want to feel numb, so that all bitter feelings go away. The same woman also said, “I’m not so much of a church-goer, but now I think it’s important to turn into a higher power. I had to be [paralyzed] like this because God wanted my attention.” She used alcohol to feel numb, but after the accident, she has come to realization that she needs to connect with God rather than depend on something harmful to her body. This dialogue made me wonder how we can surrender ourselves to God in difficult times.

Surrender to God – this easier said than done.  And, of course, it is not a new idea, either. In the Gospel of Mark (9:14-27), we read about a father who asked Christ to heal his son who was demon possessed. It is painful to see your own child suffering from any sickness. Maybe going to see Christ was a last resort for this father. The father had faith in Christ and in God’s ability to heal, but could not accept that the miracle could really happen merely because of his own faith. When he said “I believe: help my unbelief,” he surrendered himself to Christ. He was desperate, so he admitted that his faith was shaky, but that he would still trust and surrender himself to God.

Unbelief is a recurring theme among all Christians. At this point in my life, I realize that I have a yearning for God’s presence and for His guidance; even though there are things I cannot understand. I’ve come to peace with the fact that I don’t have to believe in Christ blindly. I’m hoping that God forgives me for questioning faith. I admit I’m an imperfect human being. I may not be a saint. But I am content to be like the boy’s father and say ‘I surrender.’ Or more profoundly, “I believe; help my unbelief!”


Challenging God

October 20, 2012

By Mr. Nathaniel Kostick

Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, man has been plagued with the question: Does God exist? The more we grow in our lives, the harder the struggle is for us to always accept that he does. Sometimes, we even tempt God to prove he exists. As a kid, I remember hiding privately in a corner and whispering to God. I told him that because I didn’t do my chores that day and my dad was upset, there was no way on earth my dad would let me stay at my friend’s house for the night; He’s said no three times already. So I challenged God; I said if he would make my dad say I could go to my friend’s house, I would forever believe in him. Five minutes later I got permission, and for the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop asking myself “was that really God, or am I just really lucky?”

Christ with Adam and Eve in the Garden

We often act like this. We question whether God really acts in our lives, or just deny the possibility all together.  We are like a man who’s late for work and looking for a parking spot. He looks up to his Icon and says “Lord please help me find a spot.” At that very moment, the man sees a spot open up right in front of him and says “Never mind Lord, I found one.” It seems humorous, but this is a frighteningly accurate example of us in everyday life. We attribute everything that happens in our lives to our own abilities or to luck. When we do come to our senses and thank God for what He has done for us, we eventually are carried off in our lives once again and forget He’s a part of it.

It is completely normal for us to question God. Every day we are confronted with many questions that we find hard to answer and many things that drag our belief in Him and our faith in the church down. Those who claim not to believe in God often love to challenge those who do believe in the possibility of God’s existence.  We often are asked by skeptics “Where’s the proof?” or “If God exists, how come He lets so many people suffer around the world?” or “Even if God does exist, why would you follow someone who calls for hate and discrimination?” Usually these questions are based upon the skeptics’ frustration with the Church’s stance on social/cultural issues, the Church’s unwillingness to share communion with other faiths, or perhaps to historical wars in God’s name. Sadly, it seems that no answer will be acceptable to many of these people. In the worst cases, these doubters, lacking their own convictions and faith, seek to destroy ours as well.

However, these questions are all too familiar, aren’t they? In fact, they are our own. How can we avoid wondering why so much evil is let into the world? Or why God allows so much hate to ensue? Why does God allow me to hurt as much as I do? Does he not care? These tough, but normal questions should be asked.

When I was in my senior year of High School and early years of college, I struggled incessantly with these questions, and I always felt like I had two lives: One was in the life of the church, and the other was my every day school life. My friends were all mainly Protestant and Catholic, and we spent a great deal of time talking among ourselves about theological questions, and why things are the way they are, and what it means in our lives. Coming from an Orthodox background, I felt like I had experienced a deeper life in Christ and the Church. Yet trying to figure out answers to these questions, as well searching for answers about my own pain, led me to a time of depression that lasted many years through college. People whose presence I longed for with were disappearing, I had no direction in my life, and I felt like I was from a different universe growing up Orthodox around very unorthodox people. It hurt.  Eventually, I started changing my prayers to God, asking him to just let me have this one thing go my way, and end my suffering. Nothing changed. As the years went by, matters only got worse and my faith was constantly in question. How could God allow someone to feel this way all the time? Why is he not answering my prayers?  The hardest thing for me to accept was that God was answering my prayers: he was saying “No.” Finding out the answer I did not want to hear made me doubt my faith. My prayers eventually stopped altogether. Excuses came up for me not to go to church, and I was in a rut.

“a deeper life in Christ and the Church”

Thankfully, I had previously taken a lot of responsibility around the Church that forced me to keep involved. For many days, I attended church because I had to, yet my heart was not in it. This forced me, even though I didn’t like it at the time, not to abandon the church altogether and listen to what the priests had to say. Feeling I should not belong there or have the responsibilities that I had made me seek out advice from the priests. Thinking I would be relieved of my duties, I went to them. Finding answers that were satisfying and working with a spiritual father started lifting my spirits a bit and started me on the path back to Christ. It took a great deal of time, but my depression eventually faded as well thanks to the help of a few of my closest friends.

When talking to my friends about their experiences on doubting faith, a common theme began to appear. They became doubtful of God when they had heard something they did not necessarily agree with. For some experiencing an Orthodox Church or a Roman Catholic Church, they were turned off by refusal of communion to non-members. Others made comments explaining how they switched churches because they didn’t like a certain pastor or another pastor was more entertaining and loving. In general, one way or another, something went against what they personally thought was right morally, be it beliefs on communion, individual pastors, or social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, or any other teachings. Many have even said they choose to be “atheist” for the same reasons. But disagreeing with the teachings of the Church is not merely doubting God. It’s rejecting God, or at least what we know of Him. As St. Augustine of Hippo said “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”[1]

So the overall question is this. If it is natural for us to question and doubt our faith, how do we appropriately deal with our disagreements, without expressing the extremes of ignorance or rejection of the truth? My experience has taught me that the proper response to unbelief is a practical one.

Obviously, it is good to pray, but answers are not just going to come to us if we aren’t at least working at them ourselves outside of prayer, too. Question things, talk to your priest or a priest you trust, read a spiritual book from an Orthodox library that talks about the topic in question. These are all great ways to learn about Christ and the Church on a deeper level – to face our doubts head-on. What at first seemed ridiculous or wrong may just turn out to be heavily spiritual and full of love. We need to be open to the answers we get, and to consider them not just logically, but pastorally as well.

It seems somewhat cliché to offer these suggestions, but they are so effective if done properly. However, they take time and effort. They require struggle and commitment, rather than simply following the path (or faith) of least resistance. I would also recommend starting a Bible Study with a priest or community leader and a group of peers. My friends and I started a Bible Study at St. Mary’s (OCA) Cathedral in Minneapolis under the direction of Fr. Benjamin Tucci, as a way of seeking answers to our questions and confronting our doubts and unbelief.  After a year, our group has more than doubled and more college students are learning the reasons behind the things we do and believe. Having a Bible Study is a great resource that also helps prevent us from falling into the easy trap of ignoring God’s word.

The Faith of Least Resistance

Unbelief is a reality that we all must confront. Through the course of history, it seems that nobody is immune. Benjamin Franklin once told the members of America’s fledgling congress:

In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor… And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?[2]

Franklin recognized our quickness to forget God while enjoying all of his blessings in our lives, especially here in America. Our repeated willingness to take blessings for granted opens the door to unbelief. And when unbelief strikes us, it is our responsibility not to give up on what’s important to us. Instead, we are taught to actively seek out Christ, and ask for his help with our struggles. As I have experienced, Christ’s help often takes an unexpected form, but thankfully, his help and his love is always there for us, so long as we ask him for it.


[1] This famous quote is from one of his Sermons, published repeatedly, and available in English through NewAdvent.org   http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1603.htm

[2] Benjamin Franklin, “Request for Prayers at the Constitutional Convention” made on July 28, 1787, as recorded by James Madison, Notes Of The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1987), 209-210.


Faith and Doubt in our Time

October 20, 2012

By Father Benjamin Tucci

The Orthodox Church is having a really tough time battling modern day thinking in the United States.  Christians in general are being slapped in the political scene with the phrase “Who are you to tell me how to live my life?”  School systems are teaching principles that go against the gospel and its practice.  Christian way of thinking has been seen as outdated and definitely something for the foolish to believe in.  Although there are many scientists, scholars, and the educated who do believe, you can encounter many of them who do what they can to discredit people of faith.  Every now and then some new “lost book of the bible” is discovered, going against what the church has taught for centuries.  Christianity itself is fragmented and we live in a situation where all Christians do not believe in the same tenets of faith.  Given this backdrop, it is amazing that there are still people left in our churches at all.  What keeps us there?  What keeps us going?

What keeps us here?

If we doubt, certainly we are among the many believers and nonbelievers who struggle.  It goes something like this in our minds.  Do we believe that Christianity is the truth?  Ok.  If we accept Christianity, do we side toward evangelical Christianity, other charismatic Christian groups, or a more traditional form?  If we side on a traditional form of Christianity, which one do we choose?   All of our faithful people who are born, raised, and educated in this country and who have grown up in the Church have to go through this process at some point.  They have to constantly make choices if they want to be Christian and Orthodox. These choices are particularly important – and difficult – on matters of social behavior.

The Church has a number of teachings that, when judged by today’s standards, seem ultra-conservative, outdated, excessive, unrealistic, and, well, you name the critique. For the past generation or so, the Church’s stance on sexuality (including pre- or extra-marital sexual relations, homosexuality, and birth control) has been attacked, but the Apostle Paul is no more tolerant of any number of social behaviors. He mentions fornication (Gal 5:19), and also drunkenness (Rom 13:13), slander (col 3:8), anger (Gal 5:20), greed (Eph 5:3),  and arrogance (1 Cor 13:4). Instead, we are repeatedly encouraged to love one another, and behave virtuously at all times (Rom 13:13, Gal 5:22, Col 3:12, etc). These are scriptural teaching, and the Church, in her wisdom, is reticent to contradict these precepts, and glacially slow when she does choose to move in a different direction.  This will never change in our church.  We have to accept that fact.  We have to live with it and still go to church and continue our commitment to the Lord.  Does it shake our faith?  I’ll bet it does to many of us.  Whether we’re frustrated with the Church’s teachings, or the slow pace of change, this problem in our minds is not going to just go away.

The Orthodox faithful need to know about their Church in order to survive these times of doubt. There is nothing new under the sun, and the Church’s teachings have always conflicted with so-called “popular” beliefs. Always.  Because of this, doubt and negative thoughts have always existed throughout time.  But the way out is not jurisprudence, but faith and hope in the experience of salvation; the experience of God.

The Orthodox Church believes strongly in the experience of God.  Those people who have rightly experienced God (our saints) testify of the greatness of this particular experience.  This experience only comes to people who are obedient to God’s will.  The people who are obedient to God’s will are the only ones who get to experience the greatness of God which goes beyond any human experience one can encounter.  What is usually asked of a person in doubt is what type of life experience do they want?  If their life achievement or goal is merely to be rich, comfortable, and to explore all their passions and desires to the fullest, then they are not on the right track according to the tradition and teaching of the Orthodox Church.  The experience of God is totally different than experiencing the world. And true happiness – one might say paradise – can only be achieved through struggle against the passions and a denial of the self.  Our Christian path to happiness is also steeped with an understanding to pick up our crosses and follow Christ.  The personal journey of faith is to go to one’s own crucifixion and death, whether literally or ascetically, in order to experience the joys of the Resurrected Lord.  To the Orthodox Christian, any other way to achieve “happiness” in life is foolish.  The person is merely gratifying their own self and their own self want.  How can that make them happy?  They will continue to desire more and more and experience the hell of never having enough and never feeling satisfied.  The church views sexual lust of the flesh and all forms of sinful behavior in the same light.  We sin because we are selfish and want to please our own will or are curious how it will make us feel.  We get stuck in sinful behavior patterns by never being able to rightly gratify our desires and wants – much like the alcoholic who needs to drink more and more.  But the experience of God is what we desire most.  Unlike a Snickers bar (though quite tasty!), our encounter with God  is the only thing that can satisfy us to the fullest.

“Unlike a Snicker’s bar…”

This experience of God is the natural state of all humanity.  The Orthodox believe that all sin enters the mind first in the form of thought. It is not sinful to think. The problem begins when we start to play or toy with negative thoughts.  The thoughts then can become strong and cloud our sense of reasoning in the heart.  An overwhelming amount of negative thoughts that we allow in to affect us can cut off our spiritual life from God, and we can no longer taste of the blessedness of this experience.  When we are cut off from God through our own decision not to remain with Him, we seek other things to satisfy us; we seek a different way of life.  We grow dark and unable to see.  The Church offers tools or sacraments to help us get back on the right track.  The sacraments and liturgical life of the Church have a way to heal our clouded mind and heart and to restore us to the natural state of being in communion with God.

Here are a few more thoughts to ponder about sin and doubt in our time:

  • Even saintly people have experienced levels of doubt.
  • Doubt is to be challenged.  If we doubt, it is ok to question.
  • If we constantly doubt, God still loves us.  There is no way to escape God no matter how much we try.  We are still welcome and even encouraged to go to church.
  • Just be a sinner (one who repents) and go to church.  We are all sinners and God welcomes us into His church.
  • The church is a hospital for sinners.
  • It is not clear if doubt = sin.  Sometimes doubt can work in our favor and bring us closer to God if we allow it to work that way.
  • Something true and holy stands the tests of time.  Many issues today that bring about doubt in the church are very new.
  • Just because everyone around us believes something is true, does not make it true.  This is particularly true with popular, modern thought.
  • There seems to be an attempt to usurp the old way of thinking into a new way of thinking, believing, and doing.  Maybe this generation is not as “holy” as the previous generations.  Maybe they are.  How do we know?
  • Are we beyond doubt?  Are we angry that the church can still feel or think the way it does?  We need to resolve the anger before we can attempt the doubt behind it.
  • Nothing is perfect in this world.  Don’t expect ourselves to be “perfect” believers without the help of God.  Simply pray and ask God to help your unbelief.

In the litanies of every liturgical service, The Orthodox Church asks us “to commit ourselves, and our whole lives unto Christ our God.”  Maybe this commitment has nothing to do with thinking or doubting at all.  What matters is not how we think or feel, but what we choose to do.  If we continue to be attacked by the world of modern thinking, yet still go to church and do the right things just because Christ tells us to, it shows us to be full of character and hope for better things to come.  We await and hope for the blessings to come from God.   In this way, all doubt disappears and we say to ourselves like the father of the possessed boy “I believe; help my unbelief (Mark 9:24)!”


Volume 3, Number 10, Authors and Contributors

October 20, 2012

Deacon Jason Ketz is a recent graduate of St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds a B.S. in Microbiology, and worked as the Quality Manager at a printing company for several years in his home town of Minneapolis, before answering a long-standing call to theological studies. He and his wife Elizabeth have three children; Sophia, Patrick, and Natalie. He is attached to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Deacon Jason just joined the staff of “Wonder” as its new editor. 

Fr. Robert Royer is the priest in charge of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Mission in Augusta, Georgia. He is a graduate of St. Vladimir’s Seminary. He resides in Aiken, SC with his wife, Krystal,and their five children.

Miho Ochiai Ealy was born in Japan and grew up in an Orthodox Christian household. Miho came to the United States in 2008 and graduated from Loyola University, Chicago with a master’s degree in pastoral studies. She currently works for Abbot-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, MN, as a chaplain resident. She’s married to Dn. Gregory Ealy and attends St. Mary’s Cathedral. 

Fr Benjamin Tucci resides in Minneapolis with his wife Lisa and their son Philip. An alumnus of St Tikhon’s Seminary, Fr Ben is currently the assistant priest and youth director of St Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis.

Nathaniel Kostick is a student at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. In addition to his studies, Nathaniel is the sacristan and a church school teacher at St Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis.

Writers and Authors this month draw heavily upon Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis to celebrate the occasion of their 125th Anniversary.


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