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Author Topic: Struggling with faith.  (Read 2686 times) Average Rating: 0
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Feanor
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« on: January 04, 2010, 06:13:03 AM »

Dear Orthodox brothers and sisters,

I would like your advice and opinions on something which I am currently experiencing. I feel very often drawn towards my former atheist convictions; I struggle to believe and have faith. I find myself very often asking whether I believe in God, and although I always want to say 'Yes! Yes! I do without a doubt!' it simply isn't the case. I do believe in God, but I have great doubts, and these doubts are regular. When I think hard about the matter I can rationalize my believe in God and confirm to myself my theism on an intellectual level, but I simply don't know what my heart feels. I know that I want to believe - more than anything else in the world - but my heart feels like something is missing.

I have no problems with an atheistic model of the universe - when I was an atheist I thought at great length about the question of God and at the time, atheism made much more sense to me. That model - for me - requires no leaps of faith, no feelings of doubt and despair. It is a model that does not trouble me.

But when I was an atheist, I felt strongly that something was missing. I saw the deep levels of faith of religious people and I deeply wanted to be able to believe like they could. I wanted to believe, I wanted spirituality and faith in my life, and I felt like something was lacking from my life. Last year I came to believe in God on an existential and intellectual level, and I love Orthodoxy and I love prayer; and in many ways I do think that God exists.... but, at the same time, I have great doubts which are troubling me profoundly. Did I simply convince myself that God exists because I wanted to be believe in Him? I honestly don't know what to believe or in which direction me heart lies. I struggle to feel God. I do not feel God's presence as some people say they do; and when I do, I just don't know if it is a genuine religious experience or just my mind playing tricks of me - or if I am simply interpreting mundane experiences in the way I want to interpret them.

My belief is there, but my faith struggles. I believe on an intellectual level, but I don't have the faith of the heart that I wish to have. I want to know that God is there, I want to feel Him and experience Him and have unshakable faith, but I constantly walk along the precipice of unbelief. I don't know what to do. Whenever the doubts seem overwhelming I reassure myself by rationalizing my belief in God and defending the concept intellectually to myself, and it helps; but I don't want to have to walk in that frightening darkness so often. I want faith, and I want that sick voice in the back of my mind who always laughs and says 'get up, no one is listening to your prayers' to go away. If only I could have unshakable faith, I would be at peace. How can it be that something which so many people have by default is so far out of reach for me?
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« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2010, 09:43:42 AM »

Actually what has always given me faith in the Trinity is that all I see is perpetual misery otherwise and that Jesus Christ offers us salvation from if we follow His way and try to help and pray for others in some fashion. I also have the hope that obeying His commands can be perfected in the afterlife to even help others in the afterlife to those of us who hope to have salvation to be able to do so. I realize I am going into great speculation here but what inspires is when the Lord says we will do greater works than those He showed us (per John 14:12) and cannot understand this in any earthly sense owing to the condition of the world around us (not to cop out from trying as we live). Surely God knows His children but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be followed as the holy church ministers it.
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« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2010, 09:56:21 AM »

Dear Feanor,

Having been raised in an absolutely secular and unbelieving family and in a militant Anti-Theist society (the former USSR), I do, too, have a certain "Atheist streak" in myself - that is, I can very easily relate to those who completely, without doubt, "buy" the Atheist picture or model of the universe. I absolutely reject the notion that Atheists are necessarily selfish, immoral, unable to love, etc. Moreover, I, in all honesty, could never at all understand any of the so-called "philosophical arguments in favor of God" - IMHO, they are gibberish not worth of spending any time and effort to ponder on.Smiley

My personal faith is based on an entirely different thing: beauty. Just aesthetically speaking, to me, there is no beauty bigger, stronger, more majestic than the beauty of "the greatest story ever told," of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And also, to me there is no beauty more complete and more "drawing" than the beauty of the Orthodox Church with Her Divine Liturgy, iconography, architecture. As long as all THIS exists, I am drawn to it. Whenever I enter an Orthodox church (any - Ukrainian, Greek, OCA (virtually so far), Antiochian, etc., does not matter), I feel what Paul Tillich used to call "the immediate presence of the Holy." I also feel this great need for a change in myself that would bring me even closer to this Holy, make me blend with It. This realization is strengthened on a daily basis when (and if) I maintain a certain routine of Orthopraxis in my life, or at least am trying to: pray the liturgical prayers of the Church in front of the Holy Icons in my home icon corner; keep the calendar fasts and feasts of the Church; meditate on my sins and sinful passions; give alms and do my share of stewardship. And it all culminates when I, unworthy as I am, partake in the mystical Supper of Christ, in the Holy Mystery of Eucharist. No "philosophy" is needed; it does not change anything. Simply participation, experience - that's what keeps me remaining a believer.

Sorry if this is not a comment that you were or are looking for; I know that to some people my "aesthetical" and experiential take on faith is unsatisfactory as it seems too irrational. But that's the only one I have, after quite a lot of years of "God-searching" (I am already 52).

May the Lord bless and keep you and illumine your path in life. Best wishes to you,

George
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« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2010, 10:12:05 AM »

I myself was convinced by reasoned arguements for theism and Orthodoxy. Many people say it was not reasoned arguements which convinced them, or apologetics, but some sort of experience. I have also had these experiences, but it was the apologia that convinced me.

However, I recently read a book called 'The Human Story', by Robert Dunbar, in which the British anthropologist shows how religion can be an evolutionary developement, unique to humans because of our ability to think in terms of fifth order intentionality (read the book), and also showing how endorphins can be the cause of the mystical feelings of union with God.

I've always decided that I would follow the truth no matter where it goes, and this case for atheism (though indirect) has placed my faith in crisis. I have always believed the witness of the Saints and Martyrs, but what if their witness was caused simply by these tricks of the brain?
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« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2010, 10:22:11 AM »

If it was not for man striving for spiritual reality I believe it doubtful that his mind would have achieved scientific understanding and we would probably still be far more primitive. Yes there is much criticism leveled at religion in general but there must be something divine that moves us to a higher form of being although the picture of progress is not pretty.
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« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2010, 11:50:12 AM »

I'll put the blame on Western philosophy (both Christian and secular). Trying to understand God with natural sciences (or our common sense) is like trying to accept scientific facts with faith.
I think it's because you kinda know that God exists (you've concluded through reason), but you don't have yet a true relationship with Him. All Christians believe in God's existence and powers, but there are different levels of faith.
Faith is not a blind-believing act in something you have never seen, it's a way of communicating with God. It's the act of using your spiritual side to come closer to the Uncreated.

Here's something that helped me during my struggles.
http://oodegr.com/english/dogmatiki1/B1a.htm
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« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2010, 12:39:23 PM »

Dear Orthodox brothers and sisters,

I would like your advice and opinions on something which I am currently experiencing. I feel very often drawn towards my former atheist convictions; I struggle to believe and have faith. I find myself very often asking whether I believe in God, and although I always want to say 'Yes! Yes! I do without a doubt!' it simply isn't the case. I do believe in God, but I have great doubts, and these doubts are regular. When I think hard about the matter I can rationalize my believe in God and confirm to myself my theism on an intellectual level, but I simply don't know what my heart feels. I know that I want to believe - more than anything else in the world - but my heart feels like something is missing.

I have no problems with an atheistic model of the universe - when I was an atheist I thought at great length about the question of God and at the time, atheism made much more sense to me. That model - for me - requires no leaps of faith, no feelings of doubt and despair. It is a model that does not trouble me.

But when I was an atheist, I felt strongly that something was missing. I saw the deep levels of faith of religious people and I deeply wanted to be able to believe like they could. I wanted to believe, I wanted spirituality and faith in my life, and I felt like something was lacking from my life. Last year I came to believe in God on an existential and intellectual level, and I love Orthodoxy and I love prayer; and in many ways I do think that God exists.... but, at the same time, I have great doubts which are troubling me profoundly. Did I simply convince myself that God exists because I wanted to be believe in Him? I honestly don't know what to believe or in which direction me heart lies. I struggle to feel God. I do not feel God's presence as some people say they do; and when I do, I just don't know if it is a genuine religious experience or just my mind playing tricks of me - or if I am simply interpreting mundane experiences in the way I want to interpret them.

My belief is there, but my faith struggles. I believe on an intellectual level, but I don't have the faith of the heart that I wish to have. I want to know that God is there, I want to feel Him and experience Him and have unshakable faith, but I constantly walk along the precipice of unbelief. I don't know what to do. Whenever the doubts seem overwhelming I reassure myself by rationalizing my belief in God and defending the concept intellectually to myself, and it helps; but I don't want to have to walk in that frightening darkness so often. I want faith, and I want that sick voice in the back of my mind who always laughs and says 'get up, no one is listening to your prayers' to go away. If only I could have unshakable faith, I would be at peace. How can it be that something which so many people have by default is so far out of reach for me?



Dear Feanor,

Most people are 'functional atheists,' even the Christians you have described who have 'tangible sensations.'  This means that, despite appearances, they act as atheists when 'in trouble.'  They rely on self rather than God, which is the exact opposite of what we are truly to do as Christians.

It sounds to me like your faith has not yet been tested.  So, it is normal to harbor doubts because you have not yet been tested.  New Christians are like this, so do not worry.  You will struggle with doubts your whole life, but as you are tested then you will become more confident in God.  Right now, you are really struggling with confidence in your own belief, something that we should never have.  Confidence in the self is dangerous, because we are weak and destined to fail.

As long as you continue to repent, you open yourself to gradual change.  Eventually, after God pulls you through a number of disasters that you know you could not have escaped from based on chance or luck, then you will experience the evidence of Faith.  Remember, faith is not an opinion, but rather the result of continued experience of God's presence.  It takes time to get there, and no amount of 'right thinking' will make you more advanced than the faithful Christian who has followed God through many years of suffering.

Don't look for a way to think yourself out of this situation.  And, for heaven's sake, stop compairing your inner experience to other people's outward appearances.  This is also very dangerous.  If you think all is well with other Christians, you are very mistaken!

Ultimately, there is one evidence for the work of God within us: the fruits of the Spirit (consult Galatians 5).  Some people who bear much fruit will tell you they rarily experience God's presence, yet it is obvious that He is working in/on them.

Hang in there and don't give up yet.

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« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2010, 02:51:17 PM »

Perhaps it's simply because I have not met or conversed with thoughtful, rational atheists but I have never found their arguments the least bit persuasive.

Agnostics, perhaps, but not atheists.

And it doesn't shake my faith that we may be "hard-wired" for religion. Why would it?
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« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2010, 04:19:41 PM »

What I gathered from the OP is that he can convince himself that there is a God by logical reason and deduction, but he has difficulty understanding or seeing how this God relates to us personally. Is this correct? BTW, does anyone know what kind of belief system this would be labeled as? I don't think it's agnosticism, is it?
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« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2010, 04:36:24 PM »

Perhaps it's simply because I have not met or conversed with thoughtful, rational atheists but I have never found their arguments the least bit persuasive.

Agnostics, perhaps, but not atheists.

I am afraid that's because you live in the USA. In this country, as it seems to me, atheists are unjustly marginalized. Look, there isn't one single President, Vice-President, U.S. Senator or Congressman or Governor of any US state who would openly admit that he or she is an atheist. Most people who, being US nationals, openly declare that they are atheists are, in my experience, either scientists (often biologists), or "politically correct" educators, often feminists or other radicals who seem to have, as a group, a rather limited general culture and a certain bias in their personality ("chip on the shoulder" against things "mainstream"). Everybody in the US who is "somebody" seems either to not be an atheist or to conceal one's atheism.

In Europe, and probably in Australia where the OP lives, it's very different. Quite a lot and maybe even the majority of high-ranking European politicians, for example, openly declare that they are atheists.

I know many dozens of sincere atheists in my home country, Ukraine, who are actually very good people - quite intelligent, reasonable, very moral, compassionate, loving individuals.

And it doesn't shake my faith that we may be "hard-wired" for religion. Why would it?

Agree. Even if that is true, so what? Does not really matter to me, either.
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« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2010, 04:52:46 PM »

I am afraid that's because you live in the USA.

I seem to remember him saying he is Australian.  Correct me if I'm wrong.
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« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2010, 04:55:58 PM »

I am afraid that's because you live in the USA.

I seem to remember him saying he is Australian.  Correct me if I'm wrong.

You are right, but I meant Katherineofdixie. I thought "Dixie" means the Southeastern region of the USA.
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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2010, 04:57:47 PM »

You are right, but I meant Katherineofdixie. I thought "Dixie" means the Southeastern region of the USA.

Forgive me for not reading more closely.
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« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2010, 05:11:44 PM »

Look, there isn't one single President, Vice-President, U.S. Senator or Congressman or Governor of any US state who would openly admit that he or she is an atheist.
Well, I did say, "thoughtful and rational"  Wink

Quote
Most people who, being US nationals, openly declare that they are atheists are, in my experience, either scientists (often biologists), or "politically correct" educators, often feminists or other radicals who seem to have, as a group, a rather limited general culture and a certain bias in their personality ("chip on the shoulder" against things "mainstream").
That is pretty much my experience. Or they don't seem to have really "thought through" their atheism. As you point out, this world view does seem to be limited.
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« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2010, 05:18:40 PM »

Most people who, being US nationals, openly declare that they are atheists are, in my experience, either scientists (often biologists), or "politically correct" educators, often feminists or other radicals who seem to have, as a group, a rather limited general culture and a certain bias in their personality ("chip on the shoulder" against things "mainstream"). Everybody in the US who is "somebody" seems either to not be an atheist or to conceal one's atheism.

This is absolutely true.  I tend to stereotype atheists as either scientists or obnoxious, loud-mouthed malcontents.  I'm not saying that it's right or even accurate, it's just something that I do.
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« Reply #15 on: January 04, 2010, 05:40:51 PM »

Thank you all for your responses; they have been helpful and comforting.

What I gathered from the OP is that he can convince himself that there is a God by logical reason and deduction, but he has difficulty understanding or seeing how this God relates to us personally. Is this correct? BTW, does anyone know what kind of belief system this would be labeled as? I don't think it's agnosticism, is it?

It's not that I can't understand how God relates to us personally. It's that I often feel like I simply convinced myself to believe in God because I have a psychological longing for the comforts of religion. I can defend the concept of God against my own doubts on a purely intellectual level, but my heart isn't there. I have so many doubts, which are constantly hindering me in my spiritual life and progress. I want to make these doubts go away so I can have confident faith deep in my heart.
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« Reply #16 on: January 04, 2010, 05:46:39 PM »

I really don't have much to add other than mentioning that Mother Teresa experienced the feelings of emptiness and doubt you're feeling now for a very, very long time.  The Roman Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross described this as the "Dark Night of the Soul".
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« Reply #17 on: January 04, 2010, 05:50:14 PM »

I really don't have much to add other than mentioning that Mother Teresa experienced the feelings of emptiness and doubt you're feeling now for a very, very long time.  The Roman Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross described this as the "Dark Night of the Soul".

Do the Orthodox acknowledge the experience of the 'Dark Night of the Soul' in their own Mystics? I was under the impression that this was born from Roman Catholic pieties...?
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« Reply #18 on: January 04, 2010, 05:53:26 PM »

I want to make these doubts go away so I can have confident faith deep in my heart.

I don't think the doubts ever go away. If something can be proven 'beyond the shadow of a doubt,' then its no longer in the realm of Faith at all. If you walk outside and rain falls on your head, you don't have 'faith' that it's raining, you just know. That's not to say that the ratio of Faith to doubt is always going to be where it is for you right now, but without doubt, there wouldn't be any point to Faith.
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« Reply #19 on: January 04, 2010, 06:01:15 PM »

I really don't have much to add other than mentioning that Mother Teresa experienced the feelings of emptiness and doubt you're feeling now for a very, very long time.  The Roman Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross described this as the "Dark Night of the Soul".

Do the Orthodox acknowledge the experience of the 'Dark Night of the Soul' in their own Mystics? I was under the impression that this was born from Roman Catholic pieties...?

The idea of the 'Dark Night of the Soul' as a specific, identifiable (i.e., namable) stage comes largely from the Counter-Reformation (it helps when you have a major poet writing an extending work on it). But the idea that faith and doubt are inextricably intertwined goes all the way back to the gospels: "Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief." and St. Thomas ""Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
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« Reply #20 on: January 04, 2010, 06:02:13 PM »

If only I could have unshakable faith
There's no such animal.
Faith is Faith, not certainty. Faith, by definition, requires some degree of uncertainty.
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« Reply #21 on: January 04, 2010, 06:23:20 PM »

Thank you all for your responses; they have been helpful and comforting.

What I gathered from the OP is that he can convince himself that there is a God by logical reason and deduction, but he has difficulty understanding or seeing how this God relates to us personally. Is this correct? BTW, does anyone know what kind of belief system this would be labeled as? I don't think it's agnosticism, is it?

It's not that I can't understand how God relates to us personally. It's that I often feel like I simply convinced myself to believe in God because I have a psychological longing for the comforts of religion. I can defend the concept of God against my own doubts on a purely intellectual level, but my heart isn't there. I have so many doubts, which are constantly hindering me in my spiritual life and progress. I want to make these doubts go away so I can have confident faith deep in my heart.

It helps to relate to faith as a thing hoped for rather than a throw of the dice or a leap. This way it seems tangible and becomes solid. In other words. If Christ were in front of you right now you wouldn't need faith because he is in front of you. It's because he isn't here right now we project our hope into the future. This hope is faith. When we see him we don't need faith any more.  Because he is now before us. These are the same steps we take everyday throughout our lives. We leave home to go to work, school and such. When we get there it becomes realized. That is what faith is.
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« Reply #22 on: January 04, 2010, 09:24:58 PM »

Thank you all for your responses; they have been helpful and comforting.

What I gathered from the OP is that he can convince himself that there is a God by logical reason and deduction, but he has difficulty understanding or seeing how this God relates to us personally. Is this correct? BTW, does anyone know what kind of belief system this would be labeled as? I don't think it's agnosticism, is it?

It's not that I can't understand how God relates to us personally. It's that I often feel like I simply convinced myself to believe in God because I have a psychological longing for the comforts of religion. I can defend the concept of God against my own doubts on a purely intellectual level, but my heart isn't there. I have so many doubts, which are constantly hindering me in my spiritual life and progress. I want to make these doubts go away so I can have confident faith deep in my heart.

It helps to relate to faith as a thing hoped for rather than a throw of the dice or a leap. This way it seems tangible and becomes solid. In other words. If Christ were in front of you right now you wouldn't need faith because he is in front of you. It's because he isn't here right now we project our hope into the future. This hope is faith. When we see him we don't need faith any more.  Because he is now before us. These are the same steps we take everyday throughout our lives. We leave home to go to work, school and such. When we get there it becomes realized. That is what faith is.

I'm not sure this is necessarily true.  Even when Christ lived on this earth, he often reprimaned his apostles and others, calling them "ye of little faith".
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« Reply #23 on: January 04, 2010, 09:48:26 PM »

In all honesty, could never at all understand any of the so-called "philosophical arguments in favor of God" - IMHO, they are gibberish not worth of spending any time and effort to ponder on.Smiley

My personal faith is based on an entirely different thing: beauty. Just aesthetically speaking, to me, there is no beauty bigger, stronger, more majestic than the beauty of "the greatest story ever told," of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And also, to me there is no beauty more complete and more "drawing" than the beauty of the Orthodox Church with Her Divine Liturgy, iconography, architecture. As long as all THIS exists, I am drawn to it.


You just made a philosophical argument for the existence of God. And I hardly think it's "gibberish." Wink

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« Reply #24 on: January 04, 2010, 10:16:44 PM »

Feanor,

Faith is not the absence of doubt, but the willingness to obey God in spite of doubt.

My father tells me that he prays for me every day, even though he's not sure if God exists. I tell him that the fact he prays is evidence of his faith in God.

Remember the words spoken by the father of the demoniac boy: "Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief!" [St. Mark 9:24]

Faith is like courage. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the willingness to press on in the face of fear.

One thing I do know is that we can rationalize ourselves in and out of belief in God. But faith in God is ultimately a choice. St. Paul says, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." [Hebrews11:6]

So I guess I would encourage you to simply choose to believe in God, even when your rationale leads you to do otherwise. And try to recognize that prostrating your intellect before Infinite mystery is perhaps the most logical thing to do. Seek Him diligently.

My doubts are also great. We all struggle with our faith. But the good news is that the omnipotent Object of our faith will mercifully preserve its impotent subjects.

Peace to you.

Selam
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« Reply #25 on: January 05, 2010, 09:53:13 AM »

I was brought up in an atheist/ materialist mentality and I certainly have had difficulty shaking the ingrained notion that this was objective reality. Of course it is easier to accept this stuff when almost everything in the surrounding culture says it is true. The key thing that has helped me is to remember that materialism and modern science, for all their pretension of objectivity and lack of metaphysics, are necessarily based on metaphysical assumptions. The work of Philip Sherrard (e.g. Human Image: World Image) has helped me in this regard.
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« Reply #26 on: January 05, 2010, 11:53:00 AM »

It's that I often feel like I simply convinced myself to believe in God because I have a psychological longing for the comforts of religion. I can defend the concept of God against my own doubts on a purely intellectual level, but my heart isn't there. I have so many doubts, which are constantly hindering me in my spiritual life and progress. I want to make these doubts go away so I can have confident faith deep in my heart.
First, the Orthodox Church is the cure of the disease of religion. It's not bad seeking a psychotherapy, that's why people come to Christ. Wink

Is your problem solely personal? Would it still be there if you were not in a society getting bombed by atheistic follies?
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