We have received several comments on our post ‘A Lost Modern Man’. Let us take the comment by John first. He has actually submitted two comments, the second one being just an afterthought. We will discuss them together. First of all, here are the comments:
I sympathize much with "A Lost Modern Man"; I have been 'Orthodox' all my conscious life, but only recently became interested in my faith after reading Crime and Punishment [by Fyodor Dostoevsky].
After this I have tried to learn what I can, from the absolute basics, from books at home and the internet. I got mixed up between genuine Orthodox and those who call themselves Orthodox [see the post], but I hope that I am over the worst of that now having read what the modern Elders have to say on the subject.
I am still left with the fact that I see conflicts between my daily life and what I read I should do everywhere. Not only with my secularist friends, but at home too.
I am only 17, still living with my parents (who are separated), and am very much still under their authority. From things like prayer and fasting (or lack thereof), to things said which seem to contradict the Orthodox teaching, and I don’t just mean things that are perhaps best referred to as controversial contemporary issues.
Still worse, I don’t feel like I can trust my priest and confessor for similar reasons, both on praxis and theoria, although to a lesser extent.
I seem to be judging just about everyone I know in some way or another.
I know that obedience and humility are very important. I have also read that I should not “correct” others, but is this always the case? What if they ask me about the same things? What about since what my parents do directly affects what I am able to do? Also, does the situation change at all after I become 18 or go to university?
Any thoughts at all would be much appreciated.
Forgive my ignorance.
I did not mean theoria, but I don't really know exactly how to say what I mean, although it has nothing to do with theoria. The idea of 'correctness' in Theology in a theoretical sense is what I mean I suppose.
There are a number of issues here. Let’s first outline, as is our custom, what we think John to be saying.
1 John is a cradle Orthodox, but he really didn’t become interested in his Orthodoxy until he read Dostoevsky.
2 He got mixed up with non-canonical Orthodox but has escaped from their clutches (we aren’t being sarcastic; we’re just expressing the point in a direct way).
3 He feels out of joint with his secular friends and with his home life. In particular there is a big tension between what he reads and what he sees around him.
4 He is 17 years old, living at home and under his parents’ authority.
5 His parents are espousing views and otherwise providing role models that contradict sound Orthodox teaching.
6 He feels he can’t trust his priest and confessor because of this contradiction between theory and practice. Evidently what John means is that what he reads (theory) and what he sees his priest doing (practice) don’t agree, so he feels he can’t trust (or presumably even confide in) his priest.
7 He feels that with this situation he is judging everyone, which he realizes is not good (if it’s true).
8 He knows that obedience and humility are very important.
9 He’s read that he should not correct others. Is this true in all cases? What if they ask him? (We think John means, what if others ask his opinion about these matters.)
10 What about the fact that his parents, who according to 2 above are not living or teaching an Orthodox life, directly influence what he is able to do?
11 What happens when he turns 18?
12 What happens when he goes to University (if he goes)?
13 He’s not sure if theoria is the right word. What he means is ‘theological theory’.
John is at an age when in the West men and women begin to grow apart from their parents. There is a legal, theological and psychological dimension to this. First of all, so that we don’t repeat ourselves unnecessarily, John should read ‘Justin’. Not all of that post will apply to him, but much of it will. And since we don’t really want to discuss the specifically psychological aspects of the situation here, John should look carefully at that post concerning the psychological aspects.
From a legal point of view John will have to check what the law says in his jurisdiction about the legal age of majority. It might be 18 but we are not legal experts, certainly not in John’s jurisdiction, and we cannot give legal advice.
Also John will have to check just what the legal age of majority implies. It might imply, or might not, we don’t know, that John can leave his parents’ house at the legal age of majority. It might also imply that his parents can turf him out of the house and quit feeding and clothing him, we don’t know. This is something that John will have to check. Where is he going to check? The local police might tell him; there might be some sort of free legal aid service that he can drop by and ask (without telling anyone); there might be other similar sorts of agencies either private or state-run that he can drop by and ask. This is merely to sort out his legal status. We’re not suggesting that he undergo counselling.
Next, the Ten Commandments are clear that we should honour our father and mother. Does that mean that we should sin because our parents are sinning? No. Does it mean John should correct his parents? Under the circumstances that he has described, as we understand them, no. However, because of the delicacy of the matter, it would be good to discuss these matters with a trusted confessor.
But John doesn’t trust his confessor. What is he going to do? Well, in extremis, he will keep his head down until he attains to the legal age of majority and then he will consult a confessor, wherever that confessor is located, that he trusts. We imagine that once John goes to University he will encounter other Orthodox priests and, if he has prayed to Lord to give him a confessor, one whom he can trust without forcing himself. It is very important to be intuitively comfortable with your confessor. We can’t emphasize this strongly enough. We have to trust the man.
We also imagine that his parents will not be monitoring John’s every footstep after he goes to University, so he should be able to travel a certain distance to visit with a confessor he thinks he can trust. John isn’t positive that he will go to University; we would recommend that he go if he can, unless the trusted confessor tells him that he has to break off relations with his family and that implies that they won’t support him to go to University, etc., etc.—we can’t describe every possible situation that might develop.
Of course, in University John will encounter other temptations.
What John shouldn’t be doing is arguing with anyone about the Orthodox faith, especially his parents. He should be praying for family and friends that he sees to be on the wrong road, without judging them—as John grows he will learn how weak he himself is and thus come to be more compassionate about his parents’ and family’s and friends’ weaknesses.
Under the circumstances, we suggest that John express his opinion when asked and only with the utmost circumspection. There is nothing good that is going to come of conflict and argument.
The words praxis and theoria ordinarily mean contemplation (theoria), especially contemplation given supernaturally by the Holy Spirit, and the active life of keeping the commandments (praxis). However, even Elders have used the words in a more commonsense way, where the words correspond to ‘theory’ and ‘practice’. So there’s nothing wrong with John’s usage.
Incidentally John, the road to God is through keeping the Commandments. Hence, what you should be doing is reading the Gospel, going to Church (without ostentation) and doing what the Church says.
If there are serious issues of sin which you cannot confess because you can’t trust your local priest, then you are going to have to not receive communion until you have made a good confession to a priest you can trust. You can receive all the other mysteries, however; it is only Holy Communion that has a strict requirement for the Orthodox to be free of serious sin. This is not to encourage people to attend the other mysteries in an unworthy way; it is to deal with the issue of a young man not being able to trust his local priest—until the time that he attains to the legal age of majority.
May God bless him.
John has posted the following comment below:
Thank you for your time and advice: I shall try to do (and not do) as you have advised.
Despite what I said, I am actually quite close to my parents; they and my priest are all nice people, somewhat nicer than I am. Unfortunately that does not invalidate my previous remarks.
There is one thing I would like to clarify, though; I said I didn't feel like I could trust my confessor. I remember Saint Pimen said you shouldn't open your heart to someone you don't trust from your heart, or something to that effect, not having the book to hand: does this mean I should not confess to him at all? At the moment I do (occasionally), although you seem to indicate that perhaps I shouldn't.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that even if I'm not sure about what he does or says on a variety of matters, does that prevent me from confessing anything to him?
Writing this, I suppose it may seem that what I say appears to be contradictory. If this is the case, it is because such is the state of my life.
Pray for me.
In answer to your question, if you feel that you can confess to the priest without holding anything back because of your lack of trust for him, then there is no reason for you not to confess. In other words, you have to judge just what it is that you have done, and just what the problem is with the priest. Is he going to violate the confidentiality of the confessional? Is he going to gossip about you? Is he going to give you bad advice saying that sin is not sin and what is not sin is sin? Is he going to bind you in conscience to a penance that creates serious problems?
There are a number of levels of confession. I can confess that I have murdered my brother and presumably will do so before I’m hung even if I have my doubts about the trustworthiness of the confessor. The only thing that matters is if his priestly orders are valid so that his prayers for forgiveness are valid so that I can depart with a clear conscience.
It’s another thing, though, to ask a confessor for guidance. “I’m not getting along with my parents; they’re not providing a sound role model; and you’re not so great yourself. What should I do with my life?” Such a confession would be best reserved for a priest you can trust.