I'll Come Speak

    I write and speak on all sorts of topics: ancient Christian spirituality and the Eastern Orthodox faith, the Jesus Prayer, marriage and family, the pro-life cause, cultural issues, and more. You can contact Cynthia Damaskos of the Orthodox Speakers Bureau if you’d like to bring me to an event. This Calendar will let you know when I’m in your neighborhood.


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[Frederica Here and Now; April 22, 2009] 

When my daughter-in-law brought in the harvest from her very diligent vegetable gardening, she sent me a photo of the bounty. I felt immediate wonder and gratitude—that with the sweat of her brow (and the much smaller brows of her 6 little ones) God had made this miracle, had made little brown seeds and little green sprouts turn into a basketful of robust edibles. How grateful to God they must feel, I thought. When I want vegetables, I have to pay for them.

The fallacy became clear a few thoughts later. The vegetables I buy at the store are just as miraculous as those in her back yard. But the miracle is hidden from me, because I have to go buy them. I have to hand over my credit card before bringing my vegetables home, so I have the vague impression that they are won by my own labor. God doesn’t get any credit.

Now, admittedly, God isn’t the only factor in a successful vegetable garden. There’s an old joke about a city feller who was taking a drive in the country, and pulled over to watch a farmer tending his fields. Impressed by the abundance stretching acre after acre, he said to the farmer, “Isn’t God good, to provide all this bounty!” The farmer replied, “You should have seen this place when God had it all to himself.”

Yet the fact that we encounter such foods in gently-misted produce displays, rather than sprouting from the dirt, camouflages God’s role. This doesn’t apply only to foods, of course. We do almost everything with money. Earlier generations had to seek God fervently for healing from diseases that we now cure with medication or treatment, bought with our hard-earned money. Earlier generations prayed for clement weather, but we evade extreme temperatures with heating-and-cooling systems, bought with our hard-earned money. An orange used to be a Christmas treat; now we have them year-round, and virtually any other food we desire, from any part of the world. Frankly, there’s not much left for God to do.

We’ve brought so much under human control that only the things left uncontrollable are the biggies: a tsunami, a car accident, a fast-moving cancer. It is for those remaining troubles that we turn to God for help, and, enough of the time, he doesn’t do the job. When I want something done, if it’s under my control, well, it gets done. If it’s something no one can control but God, results are not as reliable. God just doesn’t do as good a job as humans do. When it’s time for performance review, he receives a report of “Disappointing.”

Every night I pray Psalm 50 (51), and in the translation I use there is a line that has long perplexed me:

“That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged.”

I always wondered, When is God judged? It dawned on me that *now* is when God is being judged. The recent profusion of atheist and skeptical arguments often point to the existence of evil: if there is suffering in the world, either God is not capable of restraining it (he’s not omnipotent), or he doesn’t particularly care what happens to us (his will doesn’t require that things turn out well for humans). As the formula goes, either God is God and he is not good, or God is good and he is not God.

The funny thing about this current theme is that it doesn’t seem oriented toward saying that there is no God at all, as much as saying that God is failing to perform. It’s not a matter of facing a universe that is empty, as facing one where the guy in charge is a senile dufus. We live in an economy where our primary identity is that of consumer; we grow used to making hundreds of judgments every day, as we decide which product will earn our hard-earned bucks. Almost everything that could be under human control has been subjected to our desires; God has only one thing to take care of, the problem of evil. Why does he keep goofing up?

Those lines from the psalm are the end of a sentence; they are conditioned on something that comes earlier. God prevails when he is judged because something else has happened.

“Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight,

That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged.”

God prevails when we have an accurate view of the universe. It is one in which we ourselves have sinned, and sinned specifically against Him. The illusion that we are isolated individuals minding our own business, working hard for the things we want and acquiring them fair and square, must dissolve if we are ever to grasp the truth: that God’s life and energy runs through all Creation and underlies everything, including our own bodies; that we exist solely by his grace, and we offend that gift every day. But we are continually being worked over by advertising messages that teach I-me-mine, and assure us that we deserve whatever we want. The only cure for that is repentance, but repentance is bad for the economy. So we are conditioned to be self-indulgent, and conditioned not to feel gratitude. Why be grateful, when we paid for it with our own money? Who does God think he is, anyway?


No Regrets

[Frederica Here and Now; June 4, 2010]

This week, I just had a pretty short thought. I get an email, an Orthodox Quote of the Day everyday, and it’s always something wonderful. And there was something about this one that really jumped out at me. Today’s quote is from St. John Chrysostom. I’m not sure where in his writings this comes from. And the quote is:

A fearful thing is sin. Fearful and the ruin of the soul, and the mischief, oftentimes through its excesses, overflowed and attacked men’s bodies also. For since for the most part, when the soul is diseased, we feel no pain, but if the body receive, though, but a little hurt, we use every exertion to free it from its infirmity because we are sensible of the infirmity. ThereforeGod, oftentimes, often punisheth the body for the transgressions of the soul so that by means of the scourging of the inferior part, the better part also may receive some healing.

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Dn. Barnabas Powell

Frederica:  I’m here in the living room of my son Stephen Matthewes’ apartment on the campus of Holy Cross Seminary, Hellenic College, and he’s a first-year seminarian, starting just a few months ago.  And we have daughter Ruthie who is almost two and son Lucas who is three months now, who might be making some sound effects in the background.  My husband is here as well, and little Alexandra Powell, visiting from upstairs.  And they’re watching Lady and the Tramp.  We’re hoping to create a little more quiet in the room thanks to that.

I’m talking to Deacon Barnabas Powell, formerly Chuck Powell, and you just became a deacon—was it two weeks ago?

Dn. Powell:  Yeah, exactly.  Actually, November the 8th—Sunday November the 8th—I was ordained in my hometown, in Atlanta, Georgia, in Annunciation Cathedral.  Pretty cool.

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Marriage and Cohabitation

1. What does the marriage ceremony grant exactly to a couple that would help form a lasting relationship?

The marriage ceremony is a Holy Mystery, a Sacrament, which means that something happens beyond what the human participants bring to the event. God intervenes with his Holy Spirit and creates something holy, something that did not exist before. The marriage ceremony is essential for Christians, so that this immensely significant relationship in our lives may be upheld and blessed by God.

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Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 is as good as any movie Pixar Studios has made, and better than a few of them. But when you consistently achieve excellence, there’s this problem: people start expecting more. A merely excellent movie is not enough. Each one must be more suspenseful, surprising, original, hilarious, and emotionally satisfying than the last. Each success becomes a rack on which the next attempt is measured.


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Letters to Juliet

This is the dilemma of movie reviewing: a critic who has honed professional discernment by studying the cinematic arts will not be as generous toward a film as a happy audience that is just looking for a good time. When I picked up my daughter for the screening, I said, “I don’t know why I wanted to review this; it looks awful.


That opinion did not change—but while Meg and I were rolling our eyes and whispering witty critiques, hundreds of people around us, who had filled every seat in the theater, were having a ball. They laughed, they sighed, they cheered, they grew thoughtfully silent approximately 30 seconds after Meg whispered to me, “Now something devastating is going to happen.”


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Kyria: The Jesus Prayer

[Kyria; May, 2010]


“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thess 5:17)


Have you ever wondered what St. Paul was talking about? How can a person pray constantly? Yet this wasn’t the only time St. Paul urged his hearers to constant prayer.


“Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” ( Romans 12:12).


“Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance” (Eph 6:18).


“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”  Col 4:2.


If he took the trouble to say this to four different communities, he must have thought it was important. And he must have thought it was possible. He wouldn’t have kept urging his hearers to do something that was completely beyond their capability.


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Listening Skills

[Frederica Here and Now Podcast; October 1, 2009]


Frederica Mathewes-Green: I’m sitting at my kitchen table today with my friend Katherine Mowers, a member of my church, Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Baltimore. She wanted to interview me about listening skills, and I’m recording our conversation for my podcast as well.


Katherine Mowers: Here’s the first question: How can you do reflective listening in a manner that is more than just listening, but actively supporting the person?


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Big Family, Special Needs

F: Of course, you have an unusual family, and people notice that right away. You have ten children, and six are your own…


M: They’re all my own!


F: Oh, God bless you, that’s true, they’re all your own. Six are biological children, four are adopted children. You put the words to it, tell me about your children.


M: We like to say that our six biological kids are the ones we made all by ourselves—our “homemade” ones—and the other four we picked out of the catalog. [laughing] Our four adopted ones have special needs, although our oldest one has resolved most of his special needs.

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Why I Abandoned "Choice"

I was the first feminist in my dorm. It was 1970, and there wasn’t a lot of feminism in South Carolina, noteven at the state university. I was proud to be one of the pioneers.

One of our goals was to repeal the laws against abortion. I had a bumpersticker on my car: “Don’t labor under a misconception: Legalize abortion.” A couple of my friends who had unplanned pregnancies went to New York for an abortion, at the time the closest place where it was legal. I cheered them on. Abortion was to me proof of feminist commitment, evidence that you would lay your body on the line for the cause of liberation.

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