Concepts create idols; only wonder grasps anything. - St Gregory of Nyssa

Saturday, May 28, 2011


This post was intended to be about Icon Corners, candles, and the like.

When I was researching that topic, I came across this article by Nancy Forest, of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.

Very thoughtful, and enlightening (just like candles, I suppose....). Makes me think about my own prayer corner, which isn't really a 'corner', but the area in my living room where it is conducive to prayer. Gotta give me easy access!

An excerpt:

... The priest of our church, Father Sergei Ovsiannikov, grew up in the Soviet Union. He was raised an atheist and was told in school that God does not exist. He said he had no trouble accepting that there was no God, as his teachers told him, but he couldn’t believe there was Nothing. He was convinced that there must be Something, and he was determined to find out what it was. While he was doing his military service he ended up in prison, in solitary confinement. And there, in his cell, with no one else to talk to and nothing to do, he realized he was free. Like Anita, he realized that nothing could get in the way of his basic decision to accept life as it came to him, to freely accept life. Neither solitary confinement, nor a Soviet jail, nor life under totalitarian rule — nothing could take that primordial freedom away from him. And that was where he found God. Father Sergei preaches about freedom all the time. It’s one of his favorite subjects. He always preaches in Russian, and the word for freedom is one of the few Russian words I know — svaboda. He is careful to point out, however, that the freedom he’s talking about, real Christian freedom, is quite different from what we mean when we talk about freedom today.

The word freedom in English is a very interesting one. If you happen to look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED, which has such extensive etymologies and arranged according to oldest definition first, you learn some very surprising things. One of these is that freedom doesn’t mean what it used to. Our modern understanding of freedom has to do with personal choice. “It’s a free country,” we say, meaning: I can do whatever I want. I have my rights. You do your thing, I’ll do mine. But when you go back in linguistic time, you get a rather different picture. A free person was a member of a household who was not a slave, who was connected by ties of kindred to the head of the household. A free person owed his allegiance to the head of the household not out of compulsion and obligation, but out of love.

Freedom originally implied a love relationship. And if you look in the OED, you’ll see in the word history that there are other words related to free that have to do with this relationship: the Sanskrit word “priya” means dear, and “pri” means to delight, to endear; the Old Slavonic word “prijateli” means friend; the Old English “freon” means to love, from which we get our modern word “friend.” Then there’s the Dutch word “vrijen” which means to make love, and similar words for friend, love and beloved in all the Germanic languages.

So to be free means not to be in a relationship of slavery but a relationship of love. As Christians we understand the importance of freedom, because freedom comes from Christ, Christ has freed us from the slavery of sin. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” writes St. Paul in Galatians (5:1). “Stand fast therefore, and do not submit to a yoke of slavery.” And later in the same chapter, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.” (5:13). Through love be servants of one another. Learning to be free in Christ, to live the life of a free man, is the life work of every Christian. “When you enter upon the path of righteousness, you will cleave to freedom in everything,” says St. Isaac the Syrian.

Lovely essay, please read it all here.

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