Illegal Motion in the Backfield

I have been blogging for the past couple of weeks on Fr. Tom Hopko’s 10 Essential Conditions for coming to know God’s truth and finding life. Today we are looking at the 9th Essential Condition:

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

The 9th Essential Condition reminds me of the National Football League’s illegal motion penalty. First, I will explain the penalty and then explain why I see them as related.

One of the rookie mistakes one often sees in American football is illegal motion. Illegal motion is when a member of the offensive team (other than the man in motion) moves or any offensive player goes forward just prior to the snap. Prior to starting the motion, all players on the offensive side must be in a set formation for a minimum of one second. Otherwise, it is illegal motion and results in a five-yard penalty. Only players in the backfield and not on the line of scrimmage may be in motion at the time of the snap. Only one player may be in motion at one time, and the player must not move toward the line of scrimmage in his motion (in other words, he can only move laterally or backward). If a player other than the quarterback is in motion at the time of the snap it is illegal. There are no football plays that incorporate this violation of the rules and so illegal motion is always a mistake made by a player unaware of the play that is being executed.

I have often wondered if much of our arguments, worries and concerns are based on the unresolved issues, unreasonable attitudes and unrepented of sins from our past. If this is true, and I would love to hear your opinion on this, it is exactly like illegal motion in the backfield. Our childhood and family history, etc. is still in motion and it affects the present. If we are aware of it’s influence it begins to lose influence. Sharing in detail about the past frees us to live in the present moment. By speaking to a trustworthy person about our past we bring these influences to the line of scrimmage. By speaking about them we keep them paused for a second and in the open where they can be understood and confessed



Filed under Orthodox Christianity

5 responses to “Illegal Motion in the Backfield

  1. Mark

    I beleive that 9th Essential Condition has real mileage ( I know nothing of American Football so the analogy is hard for me to make) however during the time in my life of my deepest crisis opening up to a trusted confidant (actually I had 3 but it pre-date my conversion to Christian Orthodox but it ws pivotal in the move towards it) made a real difference to my life and, I beleive, stopped me from going crazy. I think the key here is that if is not your priest then it has to be a truly trusted confidant. Sadly many non-religious organisations, including management training companies, also know the power of this process. Whilst I do not see them as trusted confidants myself many people are prepared to participate, and sometimes harmfully so, and I find this is very sad. If only the 10 Essential Conditions were know more widely outside of Orthodox circles this would be a great service to all.

  2. Macedonian

    Good piece to ponder and incorporate into our daily lives Fr. James. It makes me wonder if some of the anger we have may have been learned from parents – perhaps something that didn’t impact us directly yet we made it our very own? If we delve further, perhaps there could be a “greater community anger” that we make our own?
    The Lord then gives us this “hidden power” that if we, as an individual own up to this anger and deal with it; if we address this ownership- we could be the one that puts in motion the freedom and salvation for ourselves and for the entire lot of them. As the Father’s taught, save yourself and you save everyone around you?
    Perhaps, this was what MLKjr. was truly speaking about when he asked and led his people into forgiveness, dealing and owning up to the communal anger (instead of feeding it by seeking revenge and agreeing with the anger) and the freedom that comes for everyone at that moment – oppressed and oppressor?
    But I deviate … 🙂

  3. Alane

    I agree that it is good to come to terms with your childhood and family so that you can understand yourself well. I don’t agree that, like a character in a Woody Allen movie, we should REGULARLY be talking with someone about our personal/family history for the rest of our lives. Permanent therapy creates a vortex of self-obsession. Do the work and move on.

  4. Laura

    I struggle a bit with this idea in the field of psychology. I think most modern therapists would say that an in-depth investigation of the past is Freudian and not only unnecessary for change but really does not do much of anything to promote it at all; instead, we have to realize that we always have the capacity for change and must use what do we have now (despite our genes, despite our past) to make that change happen.

    On the one hand, I agree that it’s important to stress, for the most part, the present and the future in terms of changing our unhealthy thoughts, behaviors, and sins. On the other hand, if we try to change our beliefs without looking at why and where we learned to believe them, it’s going to be harder to disprove those lies we tell ourselves and to make those changes last. Yes, we always have what it takes to do the right thing now, and often it is the case that we simply need to change our behavior and the rest will follow, but when we fail to look at the root cause of our unhealthy or sinful behavior, I think there is a greater risk that those behaviors will resurface. I liked when you said “If we are aware of [the past’s] influence it begins to lose influence.” I think that happens because, by looking at the past, we see that we’re not ridiculous for believing what we believe and doing what we do, but those unhealthy beliefs are ridiculous to believe and those unhealthy behaviors aren’t doing anything for us. And once we can see that, it is easier to change — and to use what we have right now to make those changes happen and last.

  5. Karen

    I believe it was St. Isaac the Syrian who said “to know thyself is indeed a greater miracle than raising the dead.” I think one of the things he meant by this is that true and miraculous salvation (greater than raising the dead) can only come by knowing ourselves and what we need to confess and change. But doing this work can be tiresome, difficult and seemingly impossible at times and only by the miraculous Grace of God can we even begin. If we delve into our past, not only our own experience but our family of origin, and the patterns of sin that are taught/inherited we can come to see ourselves as we truly are and hopefully begin to see Our Lord as He is. Only then can we become like Him. This process of Theosis is indeed the miracle we seek and that which Christ came to accomplish in us.
    I agree that we cannot remain in the past but I also agree that we can not live in the present with out conquering our past in order to let it go. Lord have mercy on us.

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