That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Tag: Faith and Society

“The right to be unlimited”

Chagall Icarus
A recent commercial for Sprint’s digital data services is remarkable in a few ways — it includes the line “I need to upload all of me” — but I thought one line stood out as a kind of manifesto for the techno-humanist spirit of our age:

I need, no, I have the right to be unlimited.

The image is Marc Chagall’s The Fall of Icarus.

Seek First

If there is one overarching debasement of the Christian vision in our days, it is the loss of a constant gaze upon the future life of man in the Kingdom… While the Christian may often acknowledge the Kingdom, may even speak of its attainment and its nature, how rarely today does an orientation of all life and living around and toward the Kingdom actually manifest itself, even among the baptized. Rather, the Kingdom of God is often taken as a kind of “backdrop” by which one can give a Christian flavor to the present. “I shall do such-and-such now, because such an act is loving, and the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of love.” Or, “I shall seek this good now, rather than that, because God’s Kingdom focuses on such aims.” It is not that there is no nobility in such reflections (certainly, they are better than a view which takes no account at all of the Kingdom); but the Christian life demands more than this. Christ does not say, “When you consider this life, remember the Kingdom and so let it inform what you seek.” Rather, He commands: Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Only after He has given this sole and primary focus to Christian endeavor, does He add: and all these things will be added unto you.

— Archimandrite Irenei, The Beginning of a Life of Prayer pp.23-24

Archimandrite Irenei’s book is short but intense. Available from St. Herman Press. Emphasis added.

Never too late

This potent tale from Archimandrite Tikhon’s Everyday Saints comes as a good reminder not to judge my fellow believers and to consider myself the worst of my brethren.

Somewhere in the depths of Russia before the Revolution there was a monastery that had a bad reputation in the neighborhood. It was said that its monks were all idlers and drunkards. During the Civil War the Bolsheviks arrived in the town that was closest to the monastery. They gathered together its inhabitants in the market square, and then they dragged the monastery’s monks out in a convoy. The commissar loudly yelled at the people as he pointed to those men in black: “Citizens! Townsfolk! You know these drunkards, gluttons, and idlers better than I do! Now their power has come to an end. But so that you will understand more fully how these vagabonds have fooled the workers and peasants for centuries, we will throw their cross and their Scriptures into the dust before them. Now, before your very eyes, you will see how each of them will stamp upon these tools of deceit and enslavement of the people! And then we will let them go, and let the four winds scatter them!” The crowd roared. And as the people cheered, up walked the monastery’s abbot, a stout man with a meaty face and nose all red from drinking. And he said as he turned to his fellow monks: “Well, my brothers, we have lived like pigs, but let us at least die like Christians!’ And not a single one of those monks budged. That very day all their heads were chopped off by the sabers of the Bolsheviks.

Everyday Saints, p. 215

Everyday Saints can be ordered directly from the publisher, Pokrov Publications. It may also be available on Amazon, though it wasn’t when I ordered the book recently.

Innumerable Labors

I was touched by this Labor Day reflection on the food blog The Kitchn, and have re-posted it below. It ends with a Buddhist meal blessing, one I hope most Christians would be happy to embrace.
It led me to think (maybe not the author’s intent) about the Church Fathers’ sometimes-difficult teachings about the solidarity of humanity: How Christ’s taking on our nature has transformed each of our natures; how in Christ we are members one of another, how each of our acts and all of our prayers affect one another. “Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved. ” (St. Seraphim Sarovsky)

“Innumerable Labors Brought Us This Food”

It’s Labor Day weekend and you’re about to cut into a humble red onion, maybe to slice it up for the burgers that are on the grill, or to chop it up for a sauce, or sliver it for your salad. You’re probably in a rush to get it done, but take a few seconds and consider the rather astonishing number of people who labored in order for your onion to sit there on your cutting board, whole and unblemished and ready for your knife. It truly is astonishing.

Start, if you will, with the farmer and all the labor that goes into creating food. And by farmer I mean the guy or gal who owns the fields or the farm operation, but also the people who work for the farmer. Start with the soil, and the heath of the soil, and the plowing and then planting of the onion field, followed by months of tending, weeding, and watering until finally the harvesting, then the prepping, of your onion for the market. Included in this are the people who aren’t farmers but maintain the water supply, create and build the farm equipment, and the uncountable labors of people who provide the farmers and workers with everything they need to be human and alive on the planet.

Move on to the people who drive the trucks that transport your onion from the farm to a market, or a warehouse or a factory. And all the labor that goes into the making of and maintaining the truck. And all the labor that produced the fuel for the truck. And everything that the truck driver needs to be a human and alive on the planet.

Consider the people who pay for and maintain roads and stop signs and lights that assure that your onion will arrive safely to the warehouse or the market. And at the market, the people who haul the boxes that your onion is in and the people who pull your onion from the box and place it on display and people who take your money at the register and maybe even the person (getting rarer but still possible) that packs your onion into your reusable tote bag and helps you haul it out to your car. The people who clean and maintain the market, and the people who work at the electrical plant that lights the market and cools the refrigerators, and the people who take the money at the bank so that the manager can pay the electricity bill.

You get the picture, right? That if you were to follow the concentric circles of people and their work out from your beautiful onion sitting on your beautiful cutting board, you will find a vast and complex system of people and their work, seen and unseen, acknowledged and unacknowledged, but without whom your life would be miserable, if not impossible. Innumerable labors bring us our food.

We are a people of individuals and individualism, and we have much to celebrate for that, for the ways in which our self-reliant culture has enabled amazing and important achievements. But on this Labor Day weekend consider also all the ways we are intwined and connected, how we are sustained and supported by each other, that the reason you have food on your table is deeply, profoundly and nobly linked to the lives and labors of innumerable, uncountable people. Hold and respect equally the twin truths of our self-sufficiency and our interdependence, and then pick up your knife and cut that onion.

“Innumerable labors brought us this food, may we know how it comes to us. Let us receive this as a blessing. Let us consider whether our life and efforts honor it. Let us aspire to a calm mind and heart and be free from greed, hate and delusion.” –Buddhist Meal Blessing


It is a great blessing and it is a great obligation to be Orthodox… When an Orthodox person is away from his fatherland, then he is found in the heart of his fatherland. There is a French writer [Albert Camus] who said, “My fatherland is the French language.” Whereas an Orthodox person would say, “My homeland is the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, because even if I am found far away from my homeland, I find myself in the heart of my homeland.”

Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron Monastery, “Everything is Prayer: Living on the Holy Mountain in the World.” in The Orthodox Word, July-August 2011 (#279)

This reminded me of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s words, “The Orthodox Christian lives from Sunday to Sunday, from Communion to Communion, from Pascha to Pascha.”
As Christians we strive to be good citizens of the lands in which God has placed us, while realizing every day that all of them — their rulers, their political and economic arrangements, eventually the lands themselves — will pass like shadows.
Our true homeland in this life (and, we pray, in the life to come) is the Church. The nations are a drop in the bucket. My life is a brief flash in eternity. As St. Isaac of Syria said, “This life has been given to you for repentance: do not waste it in vain pursuits.”

The image of Solovetsky Monastery in northern Russia is from an article about the monastery in

The askesis of the laity

Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov wrote that monastics are like hothouse flowers: they can bloom more fully and beautifully than those in the world, but those in the world are often hardier and may stand up to trials better than their monastic brethren.

In a recent interview, Mother Christophora, Abbess of the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA, spoke of her appreciation for the unique askesis of Orthodox Christians who struggle to live their faith in the world. Here is an excerpt.

Now, we [monastics] work, of course; we have to do things all day long, like everybody, whatever it is, whether it is shopping or cooking, or doing office work, answering the phone or writing or sewing or gardening. There is always work to do; everybody has to keep busy. Even St. Paul, a great preacher, had his profession. But we do not usually have to do it off the property, in the stress of the world, on the highways or in traffic, as so many people do. When I want to go to church, it takes me one minute to get there. If I visit a parish or stay with my family or someone, I say, “Oh! You’ve got to be up and in the car 45 minutes before the Liturgy starts because you have to drive. And maybe you have to go down to the basement and set up the coffee.”

I have no reason to be absent from church, but people who have families have to load them in the car, drive them and deal with weather and other things. Maybe it is an evening service and they want to go — it adds extra time to their day. People might have left their home at six, six-thirty in the morning, finish their workday, get home, maybe change clothes, freshen up, go to Presanctified Liturgy at six or seven in the evening and finally get something to eat, and get home at nine or ten o’clock. That is a big sacrifice. I find that extremely imprssive and very much ascetical — an asceticism that I am not subject to. I have other ascetic struggles, but we do have a little cushion here from some difficulties the laity goes through.

Another cushion — we live with other Orthodox Christians who believe the same thing, and the people who come here are mostly at least Christian or they are seeking. During Lent, I go to the refectory to find a very nice, fasting meal prepared for me at lunchtime or dinnertime. I do not have to smell hamburgers and pizza like kids who go to school. I do not have to make choices or think, “Here I am with my peanut butter and jelly again,” while other kids are having pepperoni pizza. There is this kind of protection; there is a bit of truth to that. I really want to say how much I respect the Orthodox people who are faithful, living in the world and participating in their parish and still dealing with all those things that I mentioned, whether it is traveling, jobs, work or other responsibilities.

We should not think that somehow monks and nuns are the Holy People. People see us in our habits and say, “There are the Holy People.” I think the holy people are the good, faithful Christians who raise their children, pay their bills, who go to work, support their parish, say their prayers, read their Bible, sing in the choir, and do all of that while still struggling in the world to meet all their expenses and even to keep their families happy. God bless them all!

— From Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox Nuns, Summer 2012

Where are the changing images that we set before our minds?

In training.

This is the cover of The Tubes’ album Remote Control, released in 1979. That was more than thirty years ago, when the online life was only a dream in a few techies’ heads.

Where is our passion for earthly things?
Where are the changing images that we set before our minds?
Where are gold and silver? Where are the boisterous servants and their cry?
All is dust, all is ashes, all is a shadow;
Therefore come, let us exclaim to the Immortal King:
Lord, make your departed servant worthy of your everlasting goodness,
resting him in the blessedness that never grows old.

— St John of Damascus, Hymn from the Orthodox Funeral Service

Church in the clouds

I found this dream-like photo on Fr. Stephen Freeman’s fine blog, which gave no information about its source or where the church in the photo might be.

The photo stuck in my mind and prompted a somewhat obsessive online search that included discovery and use of a cool site called, which does reverse image searches: feed it an image, and it finds links to the image, or similar images, online.

Result: This is the Foros Church, officially the Church of Christ’s Resurrection, which sits atop a cliff overlooking the Black Sea, near Yalta in the Crimea. The church was commissioned by a wealthy merchant to give thanks to God for Tsar Alexander III’s survival of a train wreck in 1888, and was consecrated in 1892. Tsar Nicholas II and Tsaritsa Alexandra worshiped there on the tenth anniversary of the disaster.

So it’s not really a magical church floating in the clouds; you can go there if you like. If the fog is out, you’ll have a sweeping view of the Black Sea and its coastline. How many beautiful things the Church has given us!


The Elder called upon the youth to pay special attention to purity, saying: “You should know that the young people today who remain pure will be counted among the martyrs of our Church on the day of judgment.”

Elder Païsios of Mount Athos by Hieromonk Isaac, p. 294

The icon image is from Uncut Mountain Supply (recommended!)

Party Platform

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

To sum up all in one word — what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens. The soul, when but ill-provided with food and drink, becomes better; in like manner, the Christians, though subjected day by day to punishment, increase the more in number. God has assigned them this illustrious position, which it were unlawful for them to forsake.

Epistle to Diognetus, 2nd century AD. Emphases added.

The image is an icon-like painting of the legendary lost Russian city of Kitezh. Besieged by the Mongol horde, the city’s inhabitants prayed for deliverance; their prayers were miraculously answered when the entire city sank beneath the water. It is said that the pure of heart can still hear the ringing of church bells and the people’s chanting beneath the waters of Lake Svetloyar. Note the red political banners in the modern city in the background of the painting.