Family Feeling Discouraged About Piety Standards

Hermetic Seal

Pelican
Orthodox
Gold Member
I’ve been struggling a lot with doubt lately.

Not intellectual doubt. I’m not losing sleep over whether God exists, or the Filioque and the Pope are right, or if venerating the Mother of God is a pagan heresy or anything like that. I’m pretty much 100% confident in the truth of Orthodoxy from an intellectual standpoint.

It’s more like a doubt of my ability to actually be Orthodox and the feasibility of raising an Orthodox family. I don’t have any problem acknowledging when I sin and resolving to fight against it. I don't mind the rigors of things like keeping morning and evening prayers, fasting, and so on. It’s not always easy, but it’s conceptually doable, and it's obvious to me how these things are spiritually beneficial. I'm inspired by the Saints and spiritual writings in a way I never was by pretty much anything in Protestantism. I've seen spiritual progress in some areas of my life.

Here’s where I have problems and start to feel despair: what I'd describe as the insurmountably high standards of piety, for lack of a better term.
  • Enjoying eating food that tastes good? Sin
  • In the room while a heterodox person prays? Sin
  • Have hobbies or interests besides Orthodoxy? Sin
  • Hand out candy to trick or treaters when they ring the doorbell? Sin
  • Have sex for any reason except the express purpose of creating a child? Sin
  • Have sex while wife is pregnant, past fertile years, on a fasting day, or even natural family planning? Sin
  • Laughing? Sin. Don’t you know Jesus never smiled? (I've actually seen people on Twitter argue this.)
  • Enjoy pretty much anything other than standing in church as often as possible? Sin

To name some examples.

I feel some kind of constant, low-level guilt over almost everything I do that’s not some sort of overly Orthodox act. I increasingly find myself feeling resentment over all this, trying to push away the idea that these are self-serving rules cooked up by monks to vindicate their lifestyle at everyone else’s expense, and just a variation on the Pharisaical rules of Christ’s time, of “loading up heavy burdens and not lifting a finger to help carry them.” The major difference of course is that the monks and clergy that I know are all humble men who are trying to help others in the spiritual life, but this leads to a jarring disconnect between the pastoral care I get from them, and the often extreme harshness I see in reading the teachings from others. And this isn't a matter of reading spiritual works that are above me, as I expressly try to avoid doing this.

Somewhat related, although I get a lot of value from the lives of Saints, I often find myself unnerved by what I can only describe as relational strangeness in some of these accounts: stuff like people abandoning their wife, husband, or family to become a monastic, often without explanation, and refusing to ever see them again. This sort of thing just seems incredibly bizarre and hard to understand why it’s behavior that would be glorified at any level. If I ditched my wife and kids to become a monk I’m pretty sure that’s as far from a salvific act as I could possibly get.

On the other hand, as somebody who married as a Protestant before knowing much of anything about Orthodoxy, I feel utterly bilked by being told my whole life as a Christian that I could enjoy a lifetime of intimacy with my wife, only to slowly learn after becoming Orthodox that the vast majority of sex I’ve ever had with my wife is actually sin for some reason or another. I don’t even know I would have bothered getting married if I had all the facts beforehand. I love my wife of course but I can’t help feeling like I was told marriage would be one thing, but it’s actually something else. And yes, I know Western culture is absolutely obsessed with sex and treating it like a toy; I can fully acknowledge the problems with that, but the very dim view of sexual intimacy I see in a lot of Orthodox writings bothers me too.

And on a related note, thinking that my family and various others I've known through my life were good Christians but are almost certainly all going to hell because they're not Orthodox, and how all attempts to get around this are either ecumenists saying All Paths Lead To God, or more rigorous Orthodoxy basically saying "just don't think about that" without offering any real, substantial consolation or resolution, which is also jarring given the general lack of evangelistic urgency.

All of this is vastly more concerning to me and harmful to my faith than some dumb rehashed argument about how Icons Are Idolatry! or whatever. In fact, probably the leading indicator that Protestant apologists don't actually know much of anything about Orthodoxy is the fact that they lean on these intellectual/theological arguments instead of what seem like more powerful emotional ones. How eager is the average person going to be to convert when they find out that probably 99% of sex they've ever had with their wife was actually a sin and almost every Christian they've ever known is going to hell? This is stuff that doesn't seem like it really gets discussed in catechism, leaving people like me to find out these kinds of unpleasant facts all on their own.

This is also discouraging to me in my family life because to be honest, I'm not all that eager to drag the rest of my family into a different Christian tradition where I'm just barely managing to hang on, and it seems like all of them are even less likely to manage the rigors of being Orthodox than I am. If you're my wife, for example, all the arguments about Church history and theology and stuff sound like obtuse gibberish; she hears Don't Eat Food On Sunday Morning, Fast All The Time, do all these really long prayers on top of all the daily demands of having a toddler and newborn, try to get your two year-old to stand for three hours in a super long church service with no child care, and so on. It all just sounds monumentally intimidating. For me, it's enough that I believe in the intellectual truth of Orthodoxy, but that's not going to sell to everyone, especially when it's very hard to convince them Orthodoxy is the only way, rather than just a personal preference.

Sorry for the long rant. Curious if anybody else has gone through these struggles and how you resolved it. And yes, I'll discuss with my spiritual father when I get an opportunity.
 

Roosh

Cardinal
Orthodox
It looks like these issues have been gathering momentum for some time. In your last line, you said you will talk to your spiritual father about it, but I wonder if these should have been discussed a while back before you arrive at what arguably what now seems like a state of despondency.

Frankly, your list is not accurate, bordering on silly. It's simply too extreme and not something that is taught for married Orthodox.

"Enjoying eating food that tastes good? Sin"
-The food in many monasteries is quite tasty, along with the fellowship meals in many parishes. All all the monks and priests sinners now? No.

"In the room while a heterodox person prays? Sin"
-Says who? One priest? Someone on Twitter?

"Have hobbies or interests besides Orthodoxy? Sin"
-Says who? I know a Bishop who likes archealogical rocks and displays them in his office.

"Hand out candy to trick or treaters when they ring the doorbell? Sin"
-Talk to your spiritual father if you want to participate in Halloween.

"Have sex for any reason except the express purpose of creating a child? Sin"
-Wrong, or else you wouldn't be able to have sex with your wife after menopause. Church never taught that.

"Have sex while wife is pregnant, past fertile years, on a fasting day, or even natural family planning? Sin"
-Both spouses have to consent on some of these absentions.

"Laughing? Sin. Don’t you know Jesus never smiled? (I've actually seen people on Twitter argue this.)"
-'Coarse jesting' is a sin, as St. Paul said. No Church Father has taught that laughing itself is a sin.

"Enjoy pretty much anything other than standing in church as often as possible? Sin"
-Absurd.

As a single man, I've taken a more monastic-type path, but your list is even extreme for me.

I would guess you are being heavily attacked by the demons. The list you wrote is rather emotional and petulent, signifying they've made some headway with you in how you view Orthodoxy (i.e. you've accepted their negative thoughts and now that is leading to negative emotional states and even doubts). I would seek out your spiritual father on this. You also should reconsider consuming Orthodox content intended for monks. Father Kosmoc says this can cause a lot of problems, especially among those who are married. Maybe don't even read work by single Orthodox like myself.
 
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Hermetic Seal

Pelican
Orthodox
Gold Member
It looks like these issues have been gathering momentum for some time.

I think so, but a lot seems to have been happening on the subconscious level; I.e., indirectly enough that it’s not occurring to me to bring this up with my spiritual father when I’m around him.

In your last line, you said you will talk to your spiritual father about it, but I wonder if these should have been discussed a while back before you arrive at what arguably what now seems like a state of despondency.

Probably, but I’m likely experiencing compounding spiritual pressure from having an extremely labor-intensive newborn, a two year old who won’t sleep, and near constant sleep deprivation as a result of this and other factors, making me susceptible to emotional pressures that are usually more in the background.

"In the room while a heterodox person prays? Sin"
-Says who? One priest? Someone on Twitter?

Well, there was this one from the other day. It's entirely possible I partially or completely misunderstood him from sleep deprivation turning my brain into jelly, but that was what I got from it.

I would seek out your spiritual father on this.

I did mention in my original post that I'll do this as soon as I can.

You also should reconsider consuming Orthodox content intended for monks. Father Kosmoc says this can cause a lot of problems, especially among those who are married. Maybe don't even read work by single Orthodox like myself.

I've actually been trying to avoid monk-centric content, but maybe all this is more some sort of meta-commentary on the state of online Orthodox community content where there's not really much of a filter for this and we can get quotes, works cited, etc. of monastic-centric presented (inadvertently or not) as being universal.
 

DanielH

Hummingbird
Moderator
Orthodox
I've noticed other people feeling a similar despondency. Before I continue, your list is invalid for the reasons Roosh stated. I am married. Due to being in several parishes largely due to covid, I've brought up marital relations with three priests, two married, one an archimandrite. They would all strongly disagree with how you understand marital relations to be sinful.

Probably, but I’m likely experiencing compounding spiritual pressure from having an extremely labor-intensive newborn, a two year old who won’t sleep, and near constant sleep deprivation as a result of this and other factors, making me susceptible to emotional pressures that are usually more in the background.
Almost same exact boat as you. 10 month old who wakes up multiple times at night and takes very short naps. It's torturous. Far more difficult than I could have imagined. Better than it was, hard to believe. I shared elsewhere that due to this my spiritual life tanked and has only recently started to recover.

I also just went to a Roman Catholic friend's wedding. Lots of praying going on in that room. I didn't participate in it, cross myself, say amen, what have you. My priest had no issue with that (due to my specific circumstances and that we're in a religiously pluralistic country) or with me going to a Roman Catholic wedding in the first place. If another priest does have an issue with that, they probably are in different circumstances, and that's okay for that priest to advise as well, but I suspect people like us - new parents in the West - won't be receiving that guidance.

A lot of people are sharing nearly identical complaints about the spirituality of the Church recently, in a way I've never seen before. I have to believe this is due to a swathe of recent bad news pushing people over the edge. We all need to get a grip, don't mind bad news, and we can't try to be our own spiritual fathers. Parish priests are very compassionate people, and most monks are too. They deal with some very bad things, the bar is unfortunately very low. Maybe one day we can elevate ourselves to a higher state where we can be more strict, but these parish priests understand we live in dark times and we are probably not going to attain that state while raising very young children.

Online discourse has become markedly nastier lately. I would say the demons have launched a general offensive. Lord have mercy on us!
 

rodion

Robin
Orthodox
And on a related note, thinking that my family and various others I've known through my life were good Christians but are almost certainly all going to hell because they're not Orthodox, and how all attempts to get around this are either ecumenists saying All Paths Lead To God, or more rigorous Orthodoxy basically saying "just don't think about that" without offering any real, substantial consolation or resolution, which is also jarring given the general lack of evangelistic urgency.

I’m not qualified to really give the definitive church teaching on this, only recount things I’ve heard from reputable Orthodox sources. Father Kosmas, of Orthodox Talks, once said that this is God’s business, not ours and we must never despair, nor must we ever proclaim that someone is going to hell. Additionally, he said that the Orthodox will face a greater judgement because we have the full truth

God is merciful, and desires not the death of a sinner. I don’t know, and cannot say what happens to heterodox who love Christ, do their best, but haven’t been exposed to Orthodoxy for reasons beyond their control. All I know is that God is just.
 

Dovetail

Chicken
Orthodox
I had an experience which is similar in some ways in my late teens. I felt that every thought, word or deed that was not 100% concentrated, tear-filled prayer of repentance was sin. The commandments were things that I should follow, but subconsciously (I realise this now) I felt that they were arbitrary - as though God was setting some kind of whimsical obstacle course, like the game-master in some Japanese gameshow. I was in despair. I lost my faith for nearly 10 years. God was merciful to me and led me back to Himself but that is just how good God is. Sex was not a major factor for me as it seems to be for you though. I was, and am, not married.

Curious if anybody else has gone through these struggles and how you resolved it.

1) For me, the biggest thing has been realising that God desires my salvation and is actively helping me. God's commandments are not arbitrary burdens, they are there for a reason - they help. When I first returned to the faith, I had to change my lifestyle from the various sins I had fallen into in faithlessness. I knew these things had to be done for the sake of intellectual integrity, but emotionally it felt arbitrary and burdensome. But then, I found that when I quit pornography I realised that self-abuse had been utterly killing my motivation and probably depressing my IQ by 20 points. I found that pride had been blinding me in ways that were of great importance to me and that forgiveness and caring for others give substance to life. I came to realise a number of other sins I had thought were 'harmless' were actually doing a lot of damage in my life - spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, everything. Now, I have had enough cases where I have seen the benefit of them - not some abstract theological reason, good as those are, but a direct, tangible experience - that I trust God that the rest of them are also good for me even if I don't know why.

The funny thing is I had quit many of these same behaviours before, but not noticed the benefits. Why? Because I wasn't trying to. The first Psalm says 'Blessed is the man .../His will is in the law of the Lord and in His law shall he meditate day and night.' I have found actively trying to understand the things of God to be very helpful - even if there are times where I just have to take things on faith.

I feel some kind of constant, low-level guilt over almost everything I do that’s not some sort of overly Orthodox act... The major difference of course is that the monks and clergy that I know are all humble men who are trying to help others in the spiritual life, but this leads to a jarring disconnect between the pastoral care I get from them, and the often extreme harshness I see in reading the teachings from others.

2) Personally I would avoid absolutely anything written by Old Calendarists (by which I mean the schismatics, not canonical jurisdictions that follow the Julian calendar) like the plague. Quite apart from any issues of factual or canonical representation, they are permeated with an attitude of gloomy legalism which I believe misses faith, hope, and love. Some sites, such as Orthodoxinfo.com, for whatever reason, feature Old Calendarist materials alongside proper Orthodox ones: it is important to look into where the materials come from as some common ones (For example, iirc, Orthodox Tradition magazine, and the 'Archbishop Chrysostomos' on orthodoxinfo) are not canonical sources. I used to read a lot of these. There are now many excellent Orthodox sources online (in a way that there just weren't when I was struggling with these thoughts), and there are many good Orthodox clergymen putting content out there that guards against these lines of thinking (e.g. Abbot Tryphon, Father Turbo Qualls, Father Josiah Trenham) without compromising in the other direction.

To be clear: it isn't my intention to attack this particular website. I bring it up as an example of being clear about sources.

Somewhat related, although I get a lot of value from the lives of Saints, I often find myself unnerved by what I can only describe as relational strangeness in some of these accounts: stuff like people abandoning their wife, husband, or family to become a monastic, often without explanation, and refusing to ever see them again. This sort of thing just seems incredibly bizarre and hard to understand why it’s behavior that would be glorified at any level. If I ditched my wife and kids to become a monk I’m pretty sure that’s as far from a salvific act as I could possibly get.

3) The lives of the saints sometimes can be 'uncomfortable'. I hate how much like a leftist this sounds, but perhaps this principle is not always wrong. Recently we commemorated a saint Matrona, who left her husband and essentially spent the rest of her life before his death trying to avoid him, moving around various monasteries to do so. I had many of the same thoughts that you mention, so I specifically prayed to saint Matrona to help me that day. There are many nuns - why did the Church glorify her specifically? It occurred to me that at the beginning of that Life it mentioned that her husband very strongly (perhaps violently?) opposed her attempts to lead a God-pleasing life. That is a very difficult situation - how does one deal with it? Another detail I think is important is that she felt called by God to the path she followed. It is a relatively niche situation, but one which I can imagine would cause a great deal of spiritual pain and confusion for those in it - and her glorification would be of particular benefit and example to those people, even if the principles are perhaps abstract to someone like me who is quite distant from it.
 
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TheosisSeeker

Woodpecker
Orthodox Catechumen
I agree with much of your post, although not necessarily your list. I have my doubts that the large majority of Orthodox or Christians at large are living a Christ like existence. This is from interacting with several directly and after getting to know them realizing some were in name only. Of course, I try to focus on my own salvation and others open around me.

I've been trying to obey and live according to rules but it seems unfeasible. My priest told me I'm setting too high a bar for myself.

The biggest struggle for me is the overwhelming feeling of being a fool. When you look around and see people succeeding when they shouldn't, it's just upside down.

I don't have much to say except that I feel the same way and understand the struggle. I also believe it's very common, but people are afraid to speak openly about it due to fear of being judged.

Guess I'll watch a Father Spyridon video and see if he has some wisdom.
 

Roosh

Cardinal
Orthodox
The biggest struggle for me is the overwhelming feeling of being a fool. When you look around and see people succeeding when they shouldn't, it's just upside down.
We are called to go through the narrow gate, not the wide path that leads to destruction.

Elder Mitilianaois said over 90% of Orthodox Christians will fall for the Antichrist. Archbishop Averky echoed a similar sentiment. When you are feeling doubts, compare yourself to the lives of the saints. They are are role models, not the mob, whether heterodox or Orthodox. When you make that comparison with the saints, you will find that your faith could be stronger, you could be denying yourself more. Ask your spiritual father about the path that is best for you at your current spiritual ability.
 

OrthoSerb

Woodpecker
Orthodox
Here’s where I have problems and start to feel despair: what I'd describe as the insurmountably high standards of piety, for lack of a better term.
  • Enjoying eating food that tastes good? Sin
  • In the room while a heterodox person prays? Sin
  • Have hobbies or interests besides Orthodoxy? Sin
  • Hand out candy to trick or treaters when they ring the doorbell? Sin
  • Have sex for any reason except the express purpose of creating a child? Sin
  • Have sex while wife is pregnant, past fertile years, on a fasting day, or even natural family planning? Sin
  • Laughing? Sin. Don’t you know Jesus never smiled? (I've actually seen people on Twitter argue this.)
  • Enjoy pretty much anything other than standing in church as often as possible? Sin
You say you have a spiritual father but these standards have surely not been set by him so I'm not sure why you're proposing them as something that should be aimed for. Most things on this list are not sins and viewing things in such unbalanced terms can only lead to prelest (delusion). We are over-exposed to information these days. There's a reason why we're advised to pick one spiritual father and then follow him in order to have peace of mind. Instead it sounds like you're reading left, right and centre dozens of different takes and then trying to process everything simultaneously without simply and humbly asking the one person whose advice should matter to you. If he comes back and affirms all your bullet points I'll be gobsmacked. Personally the one thing on your list that I've been told by my spiritual father is a sin is sex on fasting days in the context of a marriage between two believers who are struggling for the Kingdom. I'm not even sure that advice is given universally if one spouse is not on the same spiritual level as the other.
Somewhat related, although I get a lot of value from the lives of Saints, I often find myself unnerved by what I can only describe as relational strangeness in some of these accounts: stuff like people abandoning their wife, husband, or family to become a monastic, often without explanation, and refusing to ever see them again. This sort of thing just seems incredibly bizarre and hard to understand why it’s behavior that would be glorified at any level. If I ditched my wife and kids to become a monk I’m pretty sure that’s as far from a salvific act as I could possibly get.
Monasticism itself is generally quite rare, the case you are describing is rarer still - people receiving a blessing to leave their spouse and children to become a monastic. You are right in so far as it would be wrong in most cases (although it would be going too far to say it can't be right in any circumstance). But I'm not sure why its bothering you that there are presumably some cases of such a thing. Being a fool for Christ is probably less rare than what you are describing but we're not all expected to take that path or feel guilty about not taking it. That's someone elses path not ours, I'm not sure we need to ponder too deeply why its appropriate for others but not ourselves. I can't off hand think of an example in which someone left a fruitful marriage with young children to become a monastic, whether from my own life or the lives of the Saints. I'm sure there is one somewhere. What comes to mind more readily are saints I've read about, or monks I know, who became monastics when their marriage was ripped apart due to adultery. Or spouses who both agreed to enter monasteries once their children had left the home. I think this is relatively more common and is quite different to what you're describing. In any case, none of this normative.

On the other hand, as somebody who married as a Protestant before knowing much of anything about Orthodoxy, I feel utterly bilked by being told my whole life as a Christian that I could enjoy a lifetime of intimacy with my wife, only to slowly learn after becoming Orthodox that the vast majority of sex I’ve ever had with my wife is actually sin for some reason or another. I don’t even know I would have bothered getting married if I had all the facts beforehand. I love my wife of course but I can’t help feeling like I was told marriage would be one thing, but it’s actually something else. And yes, I know Western culture is absolutely obsessed with sex and treating it like a toy; I can fully acknowledge the problems with that, but the very dim view of sexual intimacy I see in a lot of Orthodox writings bothers me too.
What writings are you referring to? I'm not sure why you're worrying about whether your relations with your wife prior to your conversion were sinful. These thoughts appear to be more about pushing you towards abandoning any kind of measure right here and now by presenting a false dichotomy (impossible levels of rule following that noone has advised or abandonment of the narrow path in order to match up with those outside the Church).

And on a related note, thinking that my family and various others I've known through my life were good Christians but are almost certainly all going to hell because they're not Orthodox, and how all attempts to get around this are either ecumenists saying All Paths Lead To God, or more rigorous Orthodoxy basically saying "just don't think about that" without offering any real, substantial consolation or resolution, which is also jarring given the general lack of evangelistic urgency.
Neither is good advice, its a false dichotomy. I have family members who are not living a liturgical life and don't even have a prayer life. I have some more distant ones who are living debauched lives. I don't think we are asked to passively sit around and accept they're heading for hell and there's nothing we can do. I personally use the fact that I have to witness these loved ones missing the mark as fuel for my prayer on their behalf. It reminds me of why the narrow path is not only the right one from an individual view point. Its inevitable if one wants to be of use to others. Maybe if they were all good Orthodox I'd be more complacent and comfortable. Like this it really drives me on to be strive harder so that my prayer reaches further and they perhaps have a glimpse of something they can't currently see. It's later than we think and we have to give account for each day. I also have non-Christian school friends or work colleagues (secularised Westerners ignorant of any spiritual life) who passed and who I pray for. I do not believe God placed them in my path just for me to write them off and forget about them. I remind myself I was given more than them and so more is expected of me. And maybe what is expected is precisely to remember them in my prayers and show selfless love for them. God's ways are not our ways, we can't see the "big picture". Ours is to battle manfully with what we have been given with sacrificial love for God and our neighbour and be confident that this will over a life time result in abundant fruit.

How eager is the average person going to be to convert when they find out that probably 99% of sex they've ever had with their wife was actually a sin and almost every Christian they've ever known is going to hell? This is stuff that doesn't seem like it really gets discussed in catechism, leaving people like me to find out these kinds of unpleasant facts all on their own.
Probably not very eager if that's what we lead with or teach. None of what you are writing seems remotely pastoral or balanced. For example, my spiritual father didn't lead with denouncements of all my shortcomings or failings. He slowly led me into a deeper understanding of things in a gentle way with respect for where I was at each point in time. Sometimes he stretched me well beyond my comfort zone but he never burdened me with a cross that I couldn't carry at any particular point. If I look back a few years ago then the cross I am carrying now would probably have broken me then. Everything has its time, place and measure. Anyone who sincerely wants to progress in the spiritual life and free themselves of their weaknesses will ultimately need to embrace being told unpleasant truths that reveal what they need to do in order change and acquire the peaces that passes all understanding. We are not what we are supposed to be. It's natural that our standards and assumptions in earlier life are not going to be the same as we move forward. As regards to hell, there is a tension there that we are not supposed to be able to resolve intellectually and rationally in the way you attempt to do so. The Church doesn't teach that choices don't matter and everyone is saved regardless. But neither does the Church provide statistics on who is going to hell based on what category you've assigned them. These are thing we leave to God's merciful and righteous judgement, knowing that he is both merciful and just. My experience has been that the further away I was from God the more I worried about the righteousness of his judgement and the more I feared there was not enough mercy.

This is also discouraging to me in my family life because to be honest, I'm not all that eager to drag the rest of my family into a different Christian tradition where I'm just barely managing to hang on, and it seems like all of them are even less likely to manage the rigors of being Orthodox than I am. If you're my wife, for example, all the arguments about Church history and theology and stuff sound like obtuse gibberish; she hears Don't Eat Food On Sunday Morning, Fast All The Time, do all these really long prayers on top of all the daily demands of having a toddler and newborn, try to get your two year-old to stand for three hours in a super long church service with no child care, and so on.
If you're barely hanging on then continue to work on yourself and don't worry about dragging anyone else anywhere. When you have made progress things will straighten themselves out naturally without you having to clinically direct them. Right now you're heaping too much pressure on yourself out of a lack of discernment and then falling into faintheartedness and despondency. You're also showing a lack of faith in God's mercy, impatience and over-reliance on your own strength by worrying that you need to take everything into your own hands right now in order to ensure a good outcome.

It all just sounds monumentally intimidating. For me, it's enough that I believe in the intellectual truth of Orthodoxy, but that's not going to sell to everyone, especially when it's very hard to convince them Orthodoxy is the only way, rather than just a personal preference.
As long as you only apprehend intellectual truth you're indeed not going to sell anything to anyone. Its through the fruits of your own life that people will be attracted.

Sorry for the long rant. Curious if anybody else has gone through these struggles and how you resolved it. And yes, I'll discuss with my spiritual father when I get an opportunity.
You are far from alone in battling these types of thoughts. My experience has been that I have been assailed by the feeling that the narrow path is impossible precisely when I have tried to go it alone without submitting to a spiritual father (which itself was a sign of pride and a lack of humility).
 
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Hermetic Seal

Pelican
Orthodox
Gold Member
We are over-exposed to information these days. There's a reason why we're advised to pick one spiritual father and then follow him in order to have peace of mind. Instead it sounds like you're reading left, right and centre dozens of different takes and then trying to process everything simultaneously without simply and humbly asking the one person whose advice should matter to you.

This is probably one of best insights shared here, there's really not much of a filter on the Internet and it's not always easy to tell if some quote in a YouTube video or whatever is an actual doctrine of the Church or just some monk's opinion and isn't some binding commandment.

I'm not sure why you're worrying about whether your relations with your wife prior to your conversion were sinful. These thoughts appear to be more about pushing you towards abandoning any kind of measure right here and now by presenting a false dichotomy (impossible levels of rule following that noone has advised or abandonment of the narrow path in order to match up with those outside the Church).

I'm not looking for an excuse to abandon all chastity or whatever. I mean, my wife recently gave birth so normal marital relations are currently impossible for completely non-spiritual reasons, and family stresses are so intense right now that I can hardly even think about sexual anything right now - if that provides any context the the situation.

God's ways are not our ways, we can't see the "big picture". Ours is to battle manfully with what we have been given with sacrificial love for God and our neighbour and be confident that this will over a life time result in abundant fruit.

Well said.

1) For me, the biggest thing has been realising that God desires my salvation and is actively helping me. God's commandments are not arbitrary burdens, they are there for a reason - they help. When I first returned to the faith, I had to change my lifestyle from the various sins I had fallen into in faithlessness.

Absolutely, this is why the vast majority of Orthodox practices like the prayer rule, fasting, and so on, I enthusiastically embrace - and I've seen beneficial fruit from it in my life already.

2) Personally I would avoid absolutely anything written by Old Calendarists (by which I mean the schismatics, not canonical jurisdictions that follow the Julian calendar) like the plague. Quite apart from any issues of factual or canonical representation, they are permeated with an attitude of gloomy legalism which I believe misses faith, hope, and love. Some sites, such as Orthodoxinfo.com, for whatever reason, feature Old Calendarist materials alongside proper Orthodox ones: it is important to look into where the materials come from as some common ones (For example, iirc, Orthodox Tradition magazine, and the 'Archbishop Chrysostomos' on orthodoxinfo) are not canonical sources. I used to read a lot of these. There are now many excellent Orthodox sources online (in a way that there just weren't when I was struggling with these thoughts), and there are many good Orthodox clergymen putting content out there that guards against these lines of thinking (e.g. Abbot Tryphon, Father Turbo Qualls, Father Josiah Trenham) without compromising in the other direction.

To be clear: it isn't my intention to attack this particular website. I bring it up as an example of being clear about sources.

That's wild, I never knew that about OrthodoxInfo. I haven't been reading them lately (or any Old Calendarists) though.

There are a lot of other good comments and insights above but obviously I don't have time to reply to everything, I'll just say I appreciate everyone sharing their thoughts.
 

Dovetail

Chicken
Orthodox
That's wild, I never knew that about OrthodoxInfo. I haven't been reading them lately (or any Old Calendarists) though.
Forgive me for making assumptions. Reading some of the other replies, I can see that I did not appreciate the impact of the strains of family life when reading your original post.

Regarding OrthodoxInfo specifically, I have received a lot of benefit from reading many of the materials on it. I am just careful to check up on the author of the articles before reading them these days.
 
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Worst User

Pigeon
Orthodox
Probably all of us can relate to this. Speaking for myself, these doubts and anxieties have always corresponded with being way overdue for a detailed and honest confession of sins. That clears things up tremendously when I'm resisting the cross.

Many of the other posters have made a lot of great points so I'll just keep it brief and remind you that this is a lifelong struggle and purification doesn't happen overnight. God sees where you are and is patient with your shortcomings. At the end of the day though, you are called to imitate Christ, and doing that necessarily requires physical and spiritual discomfort. Don't heap upon yourself more than you can handle but definitely do put forth a good struggle.

The state you are currently in is temporary and there will be consolation soon.
 

Lawrence87

Kingfisher
Orthodox
I have heard sin referred to as missing the mark. I believe this is a good analogy. Those who are monastics, for example, have a very refined point that they are aiming for. For the layman like myself the aim is broader: maybe don't go and buy beers even though you feel like it, or maybe don't choose watching YouTube at the expense of reading the Bible today. We aim for things within our grasp and then we try to get better as our aim improves.

And I don't mean to say we should let ourselves off the hook. The extremely pious examples give us a blueprint for what we should be doing. "I know I shouldn't consume animal products on a fasting day... But I'm super stressed today and I just needed that bacon roll." At least we have a guideline then lets us know how far we are off the mark and then we take ourselves to confession and just say "I cannot do it, I cannot hit the mark, I am a sinner"

Where we should aim is targets we know we can hit. If we miss, we confess. I don't think Orthodoxy is about trying to hit bullseye on a target you cannot even see yet
 

get2choppaaa

Hummingbird
Orthodox
I’ve been struggling a lot with doubt lately.

Not intellectual doubt. I’m not losing sleep over whether God exists, or the Filioque and the Pope are right, or if venerating the Mother of God is a pagan heresy or anything like that. I’m pretty much 100% confident in the truth of Orthodoxy from an intellectual standpoint.

It’s more like a doubt of my ability to actually be Orthodox and the feasibility of raising an Orthodox family. I don’t have any problem acknowledging when I sin and resolving to fight against it. I don't mind the rigors of things like keeping morning and evening prayers, fasting, and so on. It’s not always easy, but it’s conceptually doable, and it's obvious to me how these things are spiritually beneficial. I'm inspired by the Saints and spiritual writings in a way I never was by pretty much anything in Protestantism. I've seen spiritual progress in some areas of my life.

Here’s where I have problems and start to feel despair: what I'd describe as the insurmountably high standards of piety, for lack of a better term.
  • Enjoying eating food that tastes good? Sin
  • In the room while a heterodox person prays? Sin
  • Have hobbies or interests besides Orthodoxy? Sin
  • Hand out candy to trick or treaters when they ring the doorbell? Sin
  • Have sex for any reason except the express purpose of creating a child? Sin
  • Have sex while wife is pregnant, past fertile years, on a fasting day, or even natural family planning? Sin
  • Laughing? Sin. Don’t you know Jesus never smiled? (I've actually seen people on Twitter argue this.)
  • Enjoy pretty much anything other than standing in church as often as possible? Sin

To name some examples.

I feel some kind of constant, low-level guilt over almost everything I do that’s not some sort of overly Orthodox act. I increasingly find myself feeling resentment over all this, trying to push away the idea that these are self-serving rules cooked up by monks to vindicate their lifestyle at everyone else’s expense, and just a variation on the Pharisaical rules of Christ’s time, of “loading up heavy burdens and not lifting a finger to help carry them.” The major difference of course is that the monks and clergy that I know are all humble men who are trying to help others in the spiritual life, but this leads to a jarring disconnect between the pastoral care I get from them, and the often extreme harshness I see in reading the teachings from others. And this isn't a matter of reading spiritual works that are above me, as I expressly try to avoid doing this.

Somewhat related, although I get a lot of value from the lives of Saints, I often find myself unnerved by what I can only describe as relational strangeness in some of these accounts: stuff like people abandoning their wife, husband, or family to become a monastic, often without explanation, and refusing to ever see them again. This sort of thing just seems incredibly bizarre and hard to understand why it’s behavior that would be glorified at any level. If I ditched my wife and kids to become a monk I’m pretty sure that’s as far from a salvific act as I could possibly get.

On the other hand, as somebody who married as a Protestant before knowing much of anything about Orthodoxy, I feel utterly bilked by being told my whole life as a Christian that I could enjoy a lifetime of intimacy with my wife, only to slowly learn after becoming Orthodox that the vast majority of sex I’ve ever had with my wife is actually sin for some reason or another. I don’t even know I would have bothered getting married if I had all the facts beforehand. I love my wife of course but I can’t help feeling like I was told marriage would be one thing, but it’s actually something else. And yes, I know Western culture is absolutely obsessed with sex and treating it like a toy; I can fully acknowledge the problems with that, but the very dim view of sexual intimacy I see in a lot of Orthodox writings bothers me too.

And on a related note, thinking that my family and various others I've known through my life were good Christians but are almost certainly all going to hell because they're not Orthodox, and how all attempts to get around this are either ecumenists saying All Paths Lead To God, or more rigorous Orthodoxy basically saying "just don't think about that" without offering any real, substantial consolation or resolution, which is also jarring given the general lack of evangelistic urgency.

All of this is vastly more concerning to me and harmful to my faith than some dumb rehashed argument about how Icons Are Idolatry! or whatever. In fact, probably the leading indicator that Protestant apologists don't actually know much of anything about Orthodoxy is the fact that they lean on these intellectual/theological arguments instead of what seem like more powerful emotional ones. How eager is the average person going to be to convert when they find out that probably 99% of sex they've ever had with their wife was actually a sin and almost every Christian they've ever known is going to hell? This is stuff that doesn't seem like it really gets discussed in catechism, leaving people like me to find out these kinds of unpleasant facts all on their own.

This is also discouraging to me in my family life because to be honest, I'm not all that eager to drag the rest of my family into a different Christian tradition where I'm just barely managing to hang on, and it seems like all of them are even less likely to manage the rigors of being Orthodox than I am. If you're my wife, for example, all the arguments about Church history and theology and stuff sound like obtuse gibberish; she hears Don't Eat Food On Sunday Morning, Fast All The Time, do all these really long prayers on top of all the daily demands of having a toddler and newborn, try to get your two year-old to stand for three hours in a super long church service with no child care, and so on. It all just sounds monumentally intimidating. For me, it's enough that I believe in the intellectual truth of Orthodoxy, but that's not going to sell to everyone, especially when it's very hard to convince them Orthodoxy is the only way, rather than just a personal preference.

Sorry for the long rant. Curious if anybody else has gone through these struggles and how you resolved it. And yes, I'll discuss with my spiritual father when I get an opportunity.
Sorry you're in despair OP... But looking at your bullets dont reflect the understanding I have of Orthodoxy having coming to the Church over the last 4 or 5 years. Converting with my wife, and bringing children into the Church... In fact these statements seem like the sort of things that a protestant would say to downplay the reality of Orthodox grace and characterize it in an unattainable way.

Forgive me, but sounds like you're looking for a reason to put yourself in a category of someone who's not doing enough for self pity and consolation due to desire for guilt.

I think we all go through that at some point in life. I'd lie and say I never did, but in my case I went through something like this when I was a catechumen and going through a lot of personal stress and life stress.

I met with my priest and he basically said that I am looking for ways to create problems that I don't need to be creating... That it's of Satan to be tempted into despair, and that sometimes the measure of ones piety is simply making incremental steps toward a more sanctified life over time instead of expecting perfection instantly.

You might need to revisit some of these points, especially around sex in marriage, food, and interactions with non- Orthodox.

We aren't supposed to let our pursuit of correctness and perfection and the reality that it's an impossiblility to live a sinless life make us despondent.

I can only say, I try and set a good example for my children, be a good leader for my family, an good husband, and keep things in perspective along the way.

Of course you're going to fail at certain things at times. That's why God provided us for Sacraments and a way for forgiveness... Because He is a loving God.

Remember the Devil wants you to feel like it's impossible.

Look at the lives of the Saints, especially at the old Testament, men like Gideon, David, and Job, who were imperfect yet turned to God and found strength in God at diffent points in their lives to overcome adversity... and even in spite of their challenges, sins, and strengths, are now recognized by the Chruch as Saints.

Hope this helps.
 

Good_Shepherd

Kingfisher
Orthodox Catechumen
I too am married and have a bunch of little kids and Im still a Catcheman and my wife is not interested in the Orthodox church and I go through a lot of hell too, for example this past week everyone was sick, then I obviously couldnt even go to church because my wife wont be able to cope looking after the sick kids plus herself sick, then I also fell sick, then kids waking up at night and all kinds of other nonsense, then you tired, I have almost zero time to do anything during the day when everyone is awake its chaos the only time I have for prayers or readings is between bathroom times and showers and before anyone is awake or when everyone is asleep, I think we must keep in mind the monks dont have families and wives its easy to fast and pray and do all those things on your own in a monestary I still enjoy their stories and books Im reading wounded by love right now. About the sex stuff I remember Paul in the Bible saying after fasts husbands and wives should have sexual relations again lest satan tempt you and also about how our bodies belong to our husbands and wives etc Iv also never seen any example in the scriptures that husbands and wives shouldnt be having sex just for pleasure, did Paul in the new testament even say its better to get married if you cant control yourself sexually than to burn with passions? Im just a Cathcheman so Im not really the right guy to be taking advice from, but I share your pain and suffering in life as a husband and father but one of my greatest joys is going to church, my priest does smile quite a lot especially during his sermons, he even has a sense of humor sometimes, anyway I wish you the best my friend.
 

Good_Shepherd

Kingfisher
Orthodox Catechumen
I too am married and have a bunch of little kids and Im still a Catcheman and my wife is not interested in the Orthodox church and I go through a lot of hell too, for example this past week everyone was sick, then I obviously couldnt even go to church because my wife wont be able to cope looking after the sick kids plus herself sick, then I also fell sick, then kids waking up at night and all kinds of other nonsense, then you tired, I have almost zero time to do anything during the day when everyone is awake its chaos the only time I have for prayers or readings is between bathroom times and showers and before anyone is awake or when everyone is asleep, I think we must keep in mind the monks dont have families and wives its easy to fast and pray and do all those things on your own in a monestary I still enjoy their stories and books Im reading wounded by love right now. About the sex stuff I remember Paul in the Bible saying after fasts husbands and wives should have sexual relations again lest satan tempt you and also about how our bodies belong to our husbands and wives etc Iv also never seen any example in the scriptures that husbands and wives shouldnt be having sex just for pleasure, did Paul in the new testament even say its better to get married if you cant control yourself sexually than to burn with passions? Im just a Cathcheman so Im not really the right guy to be taking advice from, but I share your pain and suffering in life as a husband and father but one of my greatest joys is going to church, my priest does smile quite a lot especially during his sermons, he even has a sense of humor sometimes, anyway I wish you the best my friend.
In regards to lust there seems to be a permissable lust for married people, Christ said if you lust against another man wife in your heart then its adultery but If its your own wife I dont see that being an issue, but Im just a Cacheuman
 

Good_Shepherd

Kingfisher
Orthodox Catechumen
We are called to go through the narrow gate, not the wide path that leads to destruction.

Elder Mitilianaois said over 90% of Orthodox Christians will fall for the Antichrist. Archbishop Averky echoed a similar sentiment. When you are feeling doubts, compare yourself to the lives of the saints. They are are role models, not the mob, whether heterodox or Orthodox. When you make that comparison with the saints, you will find that your faith could be stronger, you could be denying yourself more. Ask your spiritual father about the path that is best for you at your current spiritual ability.
I hope God is merciful and that I and us here will be part of that 10% the world seems very ripe for an antichrist right now
 

get2choppaaa

Hummingbird
Orthodox
I too am married and have a bunch of little kids and Im still a Catcheman and my wife is not interested in the Orthodox church and I go through a lot of hell too, for example this past week everyone was sick, then I obviously couldnt even go to church because my wife wont be able to cope looking after the sick kids plus herself sick, then I also fell sick, then kids waking up at night and all kinds of other nonsense, then you tired, I have almost zero time to do anything during the day when everyone is awake its chaos the only time I have for prayers or readings is between bathroom times and showers and before anyone is awake or when everyone is asleep, I think we must keep in mind the monks dont have families and wives its easy to fast and pray and do all those things on your own in a monestary I still enjoy their stories and books Im reading wounded by love right now. About the sex stuff I remember Paul in the Bible saying after fasts husbands and wives should have sexual relations again lest satan tempt you and also about how our bodies belong to our husbands and wives etc Iv also never seen any example in the scriptures that husbands and wives shouldnt be having sex just for pleasure, did Paul in the new testament even say its better to get married if you cant control yourself sexually than to burn with passions? Im just a Cathcheman so Im not really the right guy to be taking advice from, but I share your pain and suffering in life as a husband and father but one of my greatest joys is going to church, my priest does smile quite a lot especially during his sermons, he even has a sense of humor sometimes, anyway I wish you the best my friend.

I'd say one thing that is a reality about the fasting and sex during various long fasting periods:

There's lots of babies born at times when if you do the reverse math, the children would have been conceived in periods which fasting was prescribed. If you have over 100 families in a church, and about 50 of them under 40, you're gonna have people having kids all through out the year.

Never heard of this being an issue in my Chruch, and we have A LOT, and i mean A LOT of children. Not saying it's encouraged, but we seem to be Churching a new baby nearly every couple of weeks...so there's that.

Fasting is for the pious and something that one does to bring oneself closer to God and through giving up food or sex or whatever focuses on God. But remember, The Devil doesn't eat.

Ive brought this up with my priest about breaking the fast, and we've had this exact discussion. It's more about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Some of my fasting issues are work/job related, some are lifestyle, some are self-imposed selfishness. I also have 5 kids, a pregnant wife, a demanding job, school, and a rigorous workout regime.

While of course there are hard rules in some areas, remember, there some things that are less black and white and more "individually and circumstantial" and you can get clarification for your situation.

Obviously consult your priest and follow their guidance... But i would suspect majority of your concerns are being read into too literally and with not as much nuance as I would expect...but I'm just going off my experiences and being a convert.
 

Good_Shepherd

Kingfisher
Orthodox Catechumen
I'd say one thing that is a reality about the fasting and sex during various long fasting periods:

There's lots of babies born at times when if you do the reverse math, the children would have been conceived in periods which fasting was prescribed. If you have over 100 families in a church, and about 50 of them under 40, you're gonna have people having kids all through out the year.

Never heard of this being an issue in my Chruch, and we have A LOT, and i mean A LOT of children. Not saying it's encouraged, but we seem to be Churching a new baby nearly every couple of weeks...so there's that.

Fasting is for the pious and something that one does to bring oneself closer to God and through giving up food or sex or whatever focuses on God. But remember, The Devil doesn't eat.

Ive brought this up with my priest about breaking the fast, and we've had this exact discussion. It's more about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Some of my fasting issues are work/job related, some are lifestyle, some are self-imposed selfishness. I also have 5 kids, a pregnant wife, a demanding job, school, and a rigorous workout regime.

While of course there are hard rules in some areas, remember, there some things that are less black and white and more "individually and circumstantial" and you can get clarification for your situation.

Obviously consult your priest and follow their guidance... But i would suspect majority of your concerns are being read into too literally and with not as much nuance as I would expect...but I'm just going off my experiences and being a convert.
The problem is when I go to church after the service whatever problems I thought I might have had seem so small and I no longer see them or feel them so I never land up asking the priest anything haha. I get ehat you saying I understand, thank you
 

7-5

Sparrow
Orthodox Inquirer
I feel some kind of constant, low-level guilt over almost everything I do that’s not some sort of overly Orthodox act.
(haven't read this whole topic)
This reminded me of something I just read this week (while experiencing similar doubts):

Worldly Cares (from Letter 49)
There is a widely-accepted misconception among us that when one becomes involved in work at home or in business, immediately one steps out of the godly realm and away from God-pleasing activities. From this idea, it follows that once the desire to strive toward God germinates, and talk turns toward the spiritual life, then the idea inevitably surfaces: one must run from society, from the home—to the wilderness, to the forest

Both premises are erroneous

Homes and communities depend on concerns of daily life and society. These concerns are God-appointed obligations; fulfilling them is not a step toward the ungodly, but is a walking in the way of the Lor

All who cleave to these erroneous premises fall into the bad habit of thinking that once they accept worldly obligations, they no longer need strive towards God.
It's from a collection of St. Theophan the recluse on prayer (dm me, I can link you the Orthodox site if you like).

God put you somewhere on purpose. Not everyone is going to be an ascetic.
 
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