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Author Topic: Orthodoxy and Humor  (Read 1987 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: February 04, 2013, 09:29:29 PM »

Do the Church Fathers have anything to say about humor? On the one hand, there is the Jordanville prayer book, which includes "laughing frivolously" as a sin of which to ask forgiveness. On the other hand, there are Christian apologists such as Chesterton who say "It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it" (Chesterton himself was somewhat of a comedian who liked to make fun of "serious" things). Where should the line of comedy, satire, ridicule etc. be drawn?
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« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2013, 09:37:06 PM »

All things in moderation, but there is no prohibition on having a sense of humor or being light-hearted in Orthodoxy, not even among monastics or saints.
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« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2013, 09:39:43 PM »

All things in moderation, but there is no prohibition on having a sense of humor or being light-hearted in Orthodoxy, not even among monastics or saints.

I understand that this is generally the rule in Orthodoxy, but it only makes sense to me when it applies to things that are essentially quantifiable, such as amount of food eaten, time spent watching TV, etc. How does one quantify humor so as to only be humorous "in moderation"? Number of minutes laughed? I appreciate the response but could use some clarification on this point.
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« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2013, 10:28:44 PM »

Uh I'm pretty sure that most of the Fathers would probably condemn humor and laughter, however, it is important to remember that most of them were monastics and thus followed a STRICTER standard of faith than the rest of us; that's why Jesus said it is a "special calling" or something. So, as for us average Joes, I think it would depend upon what our spiritual father tells us.
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« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2013, 10:41:54 PM »

Uh I'm pretty sure that most of the Fathers would probably condemn humor and laughter, however, it is important to remember that most of them were monastics and thus followed a STRICTER standard of faith than the rest of us; that's why Jesus said it is a "special calling" or something. So, as for us average Joes, I think it would depend upon what our spiritual father tells us.

On the contrary. I know several monks, including one who spent ten years on Mt Athos, and all have a fine witty streak. Especially the Athonite monk.  Cheesy

Even St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, renowned for his asceticism and general strictness, was known to kid around a little from time to time.
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« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2013, 10:54:15 PM »

On the contrary. I know several monks, including one who spent ten years on Mt Athos, and all have a fine witty streak. Especially the Athonite monk.  Cheesy

Indeed, laughter and humour are not synonyms. Monks will often tell jokes, but rather than laughing out loud they smile or chuckle quietly. Monks, at least from my experience, are happy people. Just as the absence of tone of voice often leads to misunderstandings on internet fora, so I think many who read the Fathers impose on the text an angry and stern voice rather than the mild and friendly one you'll almost always hear from those who put their words in practice. Laughter is a loss of self control of sorts, and therefore not conducive to the spiritual sobriety required of us, but that does not in any way mean humour and joy are wrong.
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« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2013, 11:19:44 PM »

I'm sorry, I just cannot even imagine any of the Church Fathers--especially not St. John Chrysostom--having any sense of humor. Maybe they have a rhetorical sense of intellectual humor when they interact with each other about philosophy and theology, but not in an everyday sense.
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« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2013, 11:37:23 PM »

I can remember laughing at intended jokes in the Church Fathers, and even more modern Orthodox writers, though no specific examples come to mind unfortunately...
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« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2013, 11:43:00 PM »

Modern Orthodox writers would work as well. I'm just looking for any Orthodox advice about the appropriate limits (if any) of comedy/humor.

In other words, don't get too hung up on the first sentence of the OP. Wink
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« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2013, 12:43:41 AM »

Read "Everyday Saints." Therein, you will find many examples of Orthodox monastic humor.
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« Reply #10 on: February 05, 2013, 01:20:53 AM »

Fr. Paisios is said to have had a sense of humor.  In a book he wrote about other Athonites, he mentions a fool for Christ that wears a sack as clothing and the other fathers call this monk "sacky."
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« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2013, 01:25:15 AM »

There are both dark and light sides to this topic. Some Church Fathers condemn it because in all seriousness, trying to work out our salvation isn't a laughing matter and we have nothing to laugh about when living a life of repentance. Others say it can be used against us in the unseen warfare, because the devil see's and hears everything. Others say it can be a good thing, but don't do so much of it. There are many ways to working out our salvation, we are all different and we each need our own help, some more than others.

I like the story of Saint Anthony and the wandering hunter with the bow.
"A hunter, wandering through the desert, came upon Abba Anthony while he was making jokes with the brethren; and he was shocked. Wishing to teach the hunter that it is sometimes necessary to relax with the brethren, the old man said to him: “Put an arrow in your bow and bend it.” The hunter did so. “Bend it a little more,” said Anthony. The hunter obeyed. “And still more,” Anthony told him. “But if I draw the string too tight,” said the hunter, “the bow will snap.” And the old man said to him: “It is the same in the work of God. If in the case of the brethren we draw the string too tight, they will snap under the strain. So it is necessary sometimes to relax with them.” When the hunter heard this, he was filled with compunction, and profiting much from what the old man had said, he went his way. And the brethren, greatly strengthened, departed to their own place."

Humor can be good, I have a friend here in town who is a monk from Mt Athos, he spent 10 years their and his mission here is to start a Russian Mission Church and Skete. He is living in the woods and there is a baby deer who's mother was killed. Humans raised the deer so it'll run up to you like a dog. My monk friend laughs and jokes about wanting to put on his vestments and hand feed the deer, take a picture and send it to his friends on Mt Athos saying "look, wild animals are already coming to me, I'm already a Saint" whilst joking laughing about how silly the idea is, joking can be okay.
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« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2013, 02:36:01 AM »

IIRC, some pre-confession material can be pretty anti-humour at times.
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« Reply #13 on: February 05, 2013, 03:02:57 AM »

I always get a kick out of this one:

An elder known for his strictness and piety had a disciple who was was equally lackadaisical in his discipline, and continued so, despite many warnings from the elder, till one day, he died unexpectedly.  The elder mourned exceedingly over the loss, till one night, he dreamed that he saw his lax disciple immersed up to his neck in a lake of fire.

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The disciple replied, "On the contrary, Father, your prayers have availed me much, for I have been given the grace to keep my head above the flames by standing on the shoulders of a bishop!"
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« Reply #14 on: February 05, 2013, 03:40:47 AM »

I love this question. Especially, when the discussion reaches the point where it's been decided humor is OK sometimes however it's still to be agreed what is acceptable and what is not.
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« Reply #15 on: February 05, 2013, 03:49:49 AM »

I remember reading a book that was basically a collection of corresponding letters that many of the early Church Fathers wrote to each other. Among them was St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Gregory of Nyssa. That book sort of shined a new light upon the Church Fathers; I saw a truly human, basic side to them where they didn't seem like these glorified legends we look to, but like real people. Like real friends corresponding with each other. That being said, I do remember one segment where St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian had gotten into an argument about whether the wilderness or the city was better, and they were using rhetorical humor and satire against each other, until it eventually escalated into a real feud--which was later resolved though of course.
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« Reply #16 on: February 05, 2013, 04:03:30 AM »

'Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused.' Wink
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« Reply #17 on: February 05, 2013, 08:56:55 AM »

Much of what passes for humour, in America at least, is abhorrent.  It's not laughter in and of itself as what your laughing about. As a teacher of 15-16 year olds, I observe them filling their day with absurd, usually perverse, laughter.  Every once and awhile something will happen or be said in my classroom and I'll belt out a genuine hearty laugh and the students will be amazed.

So rather then trying to quantify laughter I would be watchful and discern what exactly you are laughing about. 
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« Reply #18 on: February 05, 2013, 09:04:44 AM »

Much of what passes for humour, in America at least, is abhorrent.   

Very true.  What many today consider humorous, I consider stupidity.  I watch them laugh and I look on in amazement.  I see bits and pieces of movies they double over while watching while I try to find what was funny.  The modern Jackass "funny", or Will Ferrell "comedy" is all the rage, but it isn’t funny at all.  It is nothing more than a bunch of half-wits running around acting like 8 year olds in men’s bodies.  Nothing funny about it.
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« Reply #19 on: February 05, 2013, 09:52:58 AM »

The modern Jackass "funny"

Agreed. It's beyond terrible.

or Will Ferrell "comedy" is all the rage, but it isn’t funny at all.

Easy, now.  Wink
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« Reply #20 on: February 05, 2013, 12:31:01 PM »

I'm sorry, I just cannot even imagine any of the Church Fathers--especially not St. John Chrysostom--having any sense of humor. Maybe they have a rhetorical sense of intellectual humor when they interact with each other about philosophy and theology, but not in an everyday sense.

Never forget that ALL of the Saints, including the apostles, were flesh and blood, real men and women as are we. They may stare down at us with a stern visage from our icons, but as LBK and others will remind you, icons are not intended to depict a Saint or an event like a photograph. They faced the same things we face and likely chuckled at the same things which amuse us. ( I suspect flatulence was always a chuckle maker regardless of intellect or societal status....) Wit and humor in the classical sense should not be confused with what often passes for comedy in the snarky, disrespectful, hyper-sexualized pablum which seems so.popular in contemporary media.

And, in my experience, people lacking a sense of humor seem incomplete and often are lacking in empathy. Humorless clergy can be very ineffective and can cause GREAT damage to a parish community.
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« Reply #21 on: February 05, 2013, 01:23:02 PM »

It's not laughter in and of itself as what your laughing about. As a teacher of 15-16 year olds, I observe them filling their day with absurd, usually perverse, laughter.  Every once and awhile something will happen or be said in my classroom and I'll belt out a genuine hearty laugh and the students will be amazed.

So rather then trying to quantify laughter I would be watchful and discern what exactly you are laughing about. 
This is the core of it. God doesn't hate mirth. The admonitions against frivolous laughter are categorically the same as the command to avoid unwholesome speech. Out of the mouth proceeds the heart of man and all that.

Some people prefer such literal readings of texts they end up hating life...But why bother with theological nuance when you can be a fundamentalist?
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« Reply #22 on: February 05, 2013, 01:31:49 PM »

The World would be a better place if religious people had more sense of humor.
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« Reply #23 on: February 05, 2013, 02:40:05 PM »

Much of what passes for humour, in America at least, is abhorrent.  It's not laughter in and of itself as what your laughing about. As a teacher of 15-16 year olds, I observe them filling their day with absurd, usually perverse, laughter.  Every once and awhile something will happen or be said in my classroom and I'll belt out a genuine hearty laugh and the students will be amazed.

So rather then trying to quantify laughter I would be watchful and discern what exactly you are laughing about.  

This is what I was looking for; and further, how to discern the boundaries of comedy in a world where everyone mocks everything.
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« Reply #24 on: February 05, 2013, 04:18:17 PM »

i agree with many writers here; it depends what is in your heart.
there is nothing fundamentally wrong with laughter.

i recently got a big laugh by looking in a mirror between my legs while bending over. it just occured to me that i hadn't done this for a few years.
it's hilarious how different the face looks upside down when you get a bit saggy and start to get wrinkles!
(warning - people under the age of 30 may not get a laugh at this due to lack of sagginess
and people over the age of 60 should take care due to dizziness while half upside down).

but i am laughing at my mortality, pleased that God looks at the heart and not the wrinkles,
so i think this is ok.
when you are laughing at how funny it would be to injure someone or watch someone's personal intimate activity, this is not so good.
if you read 1 corinthians 13 before doing something humourous, it will help you to decide if you can love and laugh at the same time.
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« Reply #25 on: February 07, 2013, 08:42:22 PM »

There are both dark and light sides to this topic. Some Church Fathers condemn it because in all seriousness, trying to work out our salvation isn't a laughing matter and we have nothing to laugh about when living a life of repentance. Others say it can be used against us in the unseen warfare, because the devil see's and hears everything. Others say it can be a good thing, but don't do so much of it. There are many ways to working out our salvation, we are all different and we each need our own help, some more than others.

I like the story of Saint Anthony and the wandering hunter with the bow.
"A hunter, wandering through the desert, came upon Abba Anthony while he was making jokes with the brethren; and he was shocked. Wishing to teach the hunter that it is sometimes necessary to relax with the brethren, the old man said to him: “Put an arrow in your bow and bend it.” The hunter did so. “Bend it a little more,” said Anthony. The hunter obeyed. “And still more,” Anthony told him. “But if I draw the string too tight,” said the hunter, “the bow will snap.” And the old man said to him: “It is the same in the work of God. If in the case of the brethren we draw the string too tight, they will snap under the strain. So it is necessary sometimes to relax with them.” When the hunter heard this, he was filled with compunction, and profiting much from what the old man had said, he went his way. And the brethren, greatly strengthened, departed to their own place."

Humor can be good, I have a friend here in town who is a monk from Mt Athos, he spent 10 years their and his mission here is to start a Russian Mission Church and Skete. He is living in the woods and there is a baby deer who's mother was killed. Humans raised the deer so it'll run up to you like a dog. My monk friend laughs and jokes about wanting to put on his vestments and hand feed the deer, take a picture and send it to his friends on Mt Athos saying "look, wild animals are already coming to me, I'm already a Saint" whilst joking laughing about how silly the idea is, joking can be okay.
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« Reply #26 on: February 07, 2013, 08:59:39 PM »

I've gone crazy ... call back later bye sk ...  Smiley
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« Reply #27 on: February 08, 2013, 02:38:19 AM »

God grant you a swift recovery through the prayers of the Mother of God.
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« Reply #28 on: February 09, 2013, 02:25:01 PM »

I'm sorry, I just cannot even imagine any of the Church Fathers--especially not St. John Chrysostom--having any sense of humor. Maybe they have a rhetorical sense of intellectual humor when they interact with each other about philosophy and theology, but not in an everyday sense.

The Fathers at my Church definitely have a twinkle of pure hearted humor. My ignorant self seems to think it depends on what the person finds humorous?
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« Reply #29 on: February 14, 2013, 02:39:21 PM »

Klaus Kenneth, who had a journey through  the Occult, Transcendental Meditation, the religious traditions of North and South America, Africa and the Middle East (including Israel), India and the Orient, writes in his book 'born to hate reborn to love' that Elder Sophrony was the most humorous person he ever met.
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« Reply #30 on: February 14, 2013, 02:43:14 PM »

The Fathers made jokes too. My favorite Church Father, St. Gregory of Nyssa, could be really funny at times.
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« Reply #31 on: February 14, 2013, 02:57:59 PM »

Uh I'm pretty sure that most of the Fathers would probably condemn humor and laughter,
What leads you to this conclusion?
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« Reply #32 on: February 14, 2013, 03:05:31 PM »

The Fathers made jokes too. My favorite Church Father, St. Gregory of Nyssa, could be really funny at times.
Wasn't it said of Fr. Seraphim Rose that he would get a chuckle out of sending children out to the pond to watch the duck only to discover that it was a decoy he had put there just a few hours before?
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« Reply #33 on: February 14, 2013, 03:11:11 PM »

Much of what passes for humour, in America at least, is abhorrent.

I agree.  You know that someone has run out of material if they start resorting to sex jokes.  I loved the Big Bang Theory when they started.  I am a geek and a nerd and all their jokes I can relate to and I get all the references and such.  But lately I think half their jokes are sex jokes, which to me signals that the writers are running out of material.  Chuck Lorre already has Two-and-a-half Men, he should keep the untalented writers on that show.
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« Reply #34 on: March 26, 2013, 09:33:28 AM »

I would think humor/laughing is almost sacramental!
As Jesus is human, he laughed too.
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« Reply #35 on: March 26, 2013, 11:51:12 AM »

The Fathers made jokes too. My favorite Church Father, St. Gregory of Nyssa, could be really funny at times.
Wasn't it said of Fr. Seraphim Rose that he would get a chuckle out of sending children out to the pond to watch the duck only to discover that it was a decoy he had put there just a few hours before?

Awwwww! Hee hee hee.
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« Reply #36 on: March 26, 2013, 12:32:40 PM »

How many traditionalists does it take to change a light bulb? None, they can't find quotes from The Fathers on how to do it.

How many worldly people does it take to change a light bulb? All of them, they all love modern technology.
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« Reply #37 on: March 26, 2013, 12:56:09 PM »

If the Gospels said "Jesus laughed" we wouldn't be having this conversation.  I'm of the mind that because His disciples could be so eye-rollingly exasperating some times, our Lord must have had to laugh at their idiocy.   We only get the stern parts when He'd really had it with them. 
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