October 30, 2014

Fr. Hopko: 10 Essential Conditions for Coming to Know God’s Truth and Finding Life

Fr. Thomas Hopko

By Fr. Thomas Hopko

 

1. The belief that the truth of things can be known, and the desire to know the truth and to do it, wherever it leads, is most essential. Indeed it is everything. When people have this desire and seek truth in order to do it, and are ready to do it whatever it takes to find it, know it and do it, God promises that they will find, and understand and live. In a sense, this desire and seeking is all that is necessary.

2. The seeking person must read the New Testament through, slowly and without judgment of details, at least two or three times, taking the time needed to do this. They should let go of what is not clear, and focus on what they can understand, what is clear to them. It would also be helpful to read a Psalm or two everyday.

3. The person must pray, as they can. If they claim to be Christian, at least somehow, they should say the Lord’s Prayer, and other prayers of the Church tradition, and attend Liturgical services, without serving or singing or reading. If they are not Christians, or are unsure, they must at least pray, “to whom it may concern,” saying something like, “if you are there, teach me, lead me, guide me…”

4. The person must eat good foods in moderation. A couple of days a week (like Wed and Fri) the person should fast; eating much less than usual. During this search the person should abstain from all alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Except a minimal amount of wine with meals. If overeating or drinking, smoking or drug-taking is a problem, the seeker must get formal help, like, for example, a 12 step program.

5. The person should abstain from all sexual activity unless they are married and expressing love (and not just having sex). There should be no TV or Internet porn. If sex is an addictive problem, they must take steps to get formal help.

6. The person should sit alone and still in silence for at least a half hour each day. They should watch their thoughts, but not engage them. They should say a very short prayer while doing them, to avoid engaging their thoughts.

7. The person should give at least a couple of hours a week to charitable work, and should give away some of their money (if they can) in a sacrificial way. They should do this, as far as possible, without anyone knowing what they are doing.

8. The person should open their life fully to at least one other trustworthy person, telling absolutely everything, without editing or hiding anything: their thoughts, dreams, temptations, actions, sins, fears, anxieties, etc.

9. The person must regularly talk with someone trustworthy specifically about their family of origin: their family history going back as far as possible, their childhood, relations with their parents and grandparents and siblings, their spiritual and religious history, their sexual history, education, etc.

10. The person must find a community of friends with whom to struggle to know the truth and to find life. The search cannot be done alone. We need each other.

Comments

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    George Patsourakos says:

    If human beings lived by following the 10 conditions described by Fr. Hopko, the world would be a nicer place in which to live — perhaps even a utopia.

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    No, not a utopia. There are no utopias on this side of the divide.

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    George Patsourakos says:

    Let me put it this way Fr. Johannes: The world would be the closest it could be to a utopia on earth, if human beings truly lived according to the 10 conditions described by Fr. Hopko.

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    Hieromonk Mark says:

    Perhaps it is because I am not an erudite, academic theologian, with letters after my name, but this little piece leaves me uneasy. It strikes me as the blandest possible, values-free, humanistic, ecumenistic, generic counterfeit for Orthodox Christianity one could imagine.

    Didn’t our Lord say that, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven and that no one can come to the Father but by Him? And yet Jesus Christ, with the Father and the Spirit, the Holy Trinity, the only true source of the authentic divine life, light and truth, is nowhere mentioned in this ‘recipe’ for coming to know the ‘truth’ of a generic, unspecified ‘God’ and the finding of some kind of ‘life’ also of an unspecified nature. There are many people that follow many of these suggestions without knowing or coming to know Christ. I’d venture to say that the Dalai Lama, just as one example, has a mastery of many, if not most, of them, and, indeed, one better than I have been able to achieve.

    Do not our Holy Fathers make it clear that the only true and inerrrant path to the Kingdom of God is twofold, consisting of both the practise of Orthodox Christian askesis and participation in the Holy Mysteries of the Orthodox Church? Isn’t what Fr. Thomas has written a sort of non-denominational, ‘New Age’, ‘AA’ type of palliative, that could tend to make all sorts of self-styled ‘spiritual’ people happy and satisfied with themselves and with what ‘good’ people they are (by their own efforts), without leading anyone any closer to the Way, the Truth and the Life, the one and only, who is to be found, in perfect fullness and clarity, only in the faith and life preserved and lived to their fullness in the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ, and there, alone?

    As George writes, the 10 points may certainly be useful for making the world (a world without Christ) a better place. But I have strong reservations about them being an effective and dependable way to knowing ‘God’s Truth’ and finding ‘Life’ as we Orthodox Christians are taught by Holy Tradition to understand them. Mere ‘wise words’ from a sweet, gentle heart can easily lead astray. The best guidance we can offer to all men, both Orthodox Christians and not, is our own personal dedication to living the life of Holy Orthodoxy to the fullest extent our personal frailties will permit. Then, words are available, if needed, as a means of clarification of the reality we express in our ascetic and mystical life.

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    I have a question: Having a person to share everything with is to have a spiritual elder or father. But this is a very special relationship requiring great wisdom and spiritual maturity. Not just anyone will do. In fact, I have read that one should not open oneself up so completely (which is not the same thing as confessing our sins to a priest) except to a true Staretz. Today many must struggle without such an elder and adviser. I am a huge fan of Fr. Thomas, but I think he was a bit too glib there.

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    James the Thickheaded says:

    I think the intent of the piece was directed widely… even to the unchurched. I should think that the best place you find and build these is the Orthodox Church, but some will start elsewhere. Do we presume that if they are really led, they will find their way here nevertheless? I don’t know, so would agree there is some risk. Is it greater than not encouraging the exploration itself… surely it can be, but equally not perhaps. Again, don’t know.

    One wonders in an era where parents have abandoned their children to pursue career, other spouses, even drugs… what examples there are for children of complete trust? In an era of earphones plugged into iPods, do we still know how to interact with each other and even have, much less develop real friends with serious commitment to each other? Have we given the time necessary to cultivate friendship? In an era with Twittering and texting, can we still form the complex thoughts and gentle kindness involved in cultivating friendships? And if we struggle with these, how will we know how to open up to… much less recognize a spiritual elder or father and the value of his love and support, the care of his one word offered? Sometimes we suffer from starting from some very basic problems and jumping to the deep end with about as much prospect as “Learn Piano, Play Chopin in 5 minutes”. Maybe this works. Maybe it needs patient preparation. Maybe it is possible these are taken or intended as a series of sequential steps with the last two the hardest?

    Is there a lot left out? Sure. But we gotta start somewhere. The older I get and the more confused I find myself at times, the more I find the adverbs matter less than actually just getting started. We figure it out as we go. I think this is the intent of the piece. Yes, this puts a lot of trust in someone’s guiding us who may not even be visible… that He may lead us (and yes it seems amazingly silent on this), and it’s trusting ourselves to make corrections as we go, but I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that – if we don’t let ourselves get lazy. If we grant God’s in charge…

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      Eliot Ryan says:

      In an era of earphones plugged into iPods, do we still know how to interact with each other and even have, much less develop real friends with serious commitment to each other?

      Develop friendship …? Nowadays it is really difficult to get peoples’ attention. Perhaps something extreme would have a real impact. What about a return to the religious vigor of the early years of Christianity? The most extreme of these forms were the Stylites (or the Pillar Saints or “pillar-hermits”). A (large) fraction would consider such endeavor insane. A few will eventually figure out how insane the world and its values are.

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    Michael Bauman says:

    There is much to be said for a heart that seeks the truth. Can one come to Christ without a earnest longing to know the truth? I don’t think so. Even if such a one is ‘in the Church’, Christ will not be in their heart. If one maintains even an ember of longing for the truth that is not satisfied with anything less, Christ will be found. If one allows the ember to grow and fans it into a flame by participation in the scaraments, the attendant spiritual warfare and care of others-of such is the Kingdom is it not?

    The risk, inside or outside the Church, is settling for a counterfeit of the truth or less than the full truth.

    Those who are not of the truth…..???

    Besides that, I’ve heard Fr. Tom in lectures say that the older he gets the more only two things matter: Jesus Christ and the Cross.

    I am sure he is not intending to preach another gospel.

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    S says:

    I am a young woman who was raised in the Orthodox Church and participated and believed in all the rituals and doctrine of the Church. I thought of myself as a pretty spiritual person also.

    However after being ill for quite a few years (and mentally ill as a result of the physical illness), I found myself lost and had completely come to a conclusion that there was no God. This was a very frightening thing to feel, but nonetheless, I felt to my core that there was no God. All the ritual, doctrine and feelings that I had for my religion was completely lost.

    As my illness worsened, I stretched out a hand for help. I unknowningly followed a lot of these basic steps in the process to find God again and regain calm amongst the chaos in my mind, body and soul:
    – I always had a belief that if I kept looking, I will find (even if I didnt know what I was looking for) (point number one)
    – I changed my diet back to basic foods and ate in moderation (point number 4)
    – I stopped just “having sex” within my marriage, and only made love (point number 5)
    – I started sitting alone for long periods of time and simply letting my thoughts be, without resistance or engagement, which really helped my destructive thoughts have less power over me (point number 6)
    – I completely opened up all of my unfiltered thoughts, experiences etc with a councellor and my priest, and I mean ALL of my thoughts, no matter how shameful and destructive they were (point numbers 8 & 9)
    AND
    – The most important one for me was that I started to pray. Not just ritualistic pray (because I had lost my “religion” and belief in God), but a reaching out to God prayer. Because I didnt believe in Him at the time, I just begged for Him, if he was there, to come back into my life, because I was lost and I couldnt feel his presence anymore. I begged for whatever was out there, IF it was there, to please have mercy on me and guide me. What followed over the weeks and months was a really deep re-connection with God and I developed a very personal relationship with Him that I never had experienced before.
    Then the rest of the pieces just fell back together, and all of the ritual and doctrine of the Orthodox faith had a completely new and deeper meaning to it. This experience just deepened my pre-existing faith. It made me realise that without our personal one-on-one relationship with God, the doctrine, tradition and rituals of our faith doesnt have as much impact and power on our lives.
    Yes there is way more to an Orthodox Christian life than these 10 steps, but when you’re reaching out your hand to find something that you dont know exists, and you feel that doctrine and ritual no longer has a meaning, I feel this is a very good place to start to find a relationship between us and God. :)
    This is just my experience and my part of the journey. We all have different journeys to finding God, and who are we to judge each other’s journey or spirituality?

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      Eliot Ryan says:

      S: So great to hear that you are well. Out there are many people suffering terribly and not knowing how to turn to God. They would try everything that is out there before resorting to prayer. If they hear that a trip to the Moon would alleviate their suffering they would focus to get it done. Prayer is not supposed to replace medication but trust in God brings complete peace. The state of peace is beneficial for our health while the stress leads to physical disorders.
      Also, glad to hear about your deep re-connection with God
      I am dealing with a fried who has a sick baby and keeps blaming God for it. After many discussions I thought we were on the same wavelength but it didn’t take long before the blame game started over again. I gave up and decided that I should be the one begging God for them. Discussing it certainly did not bring any lasting result, or so it seems to me. So, prayer is the only thing left.

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    Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

    S, a very moving testimony and so true! Sometimes people ask me where can they find God? I answer that the is always at the other end of your prayer. If you don’t find Him right away, keep praying. You will.

    Isn’t it true though that what drives us to prayer is our need? And this is a good thing.

    Eliot, you are right in taking your friend’s struggle into prayer. She might find healing through your prayers for her. The more you pray for her, you may find that your understanding of her deeper need increases. This is so can focus your prayer more and make it more effective. Consider that a gift from God to you on her behalf.

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      Eliot Ryan says:

      Fr. Hans: You are right. Once I stopped talking to her I realized that my prayer was more focused.

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