Abu Ghraib and Pitesti

[Dallas Morning News, May 26, 2004] While most of the world is reeling at the ugliness perpetrated by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, I've had the feeling I've seen it all before. Rather, I've heard it, from a white-haired Romanian priest who suffered in the dread Pitesti prison outside Bucharest. Fr. George Calciu is now pastor of a small white-clapboard church in northern Virginia, and my spiritual father.

Rublev’s “Old Testament Trinity”

[The Cresset, April 2004] The Psalmist writes, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” words that fall on deaf ears in a culture that knows as little of beauty as of holiness. Look at new church construction. So many contemporary churches do not aim to be beautiful; they aim to be functional. This might still work out all right, if the designers truly thought the function of a church is worship, but too often the assumed function is communication with the people in attendance, either to teach, uplift, or entertain them. Contemporary worship spaces look more like education spaces or entertainment spaces than like sanctuaries. By contrast, picture a church constructed with an eye to beauty, designed to draw us into the presence of God. It is fitting that it be beautiful, because beauty opens our hearts.

Bloody, to What End?

[Newsday, March 7, 2004] “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” asks the old Gospel hymn. Mel Gibson's powerful film, “The Passion of the Christ,” has brought many viewers “there,” and I rejoice with those who say it deepened their faith. I can understand why this film moves them so much. But I don't think they understand why a fellow-believer might prefer a different approach. It seems to them that any less-than-graphic portrayal is weak - “sanitized.” But is that the only way to see it? Here, for example, are two paintings made early in the 17th century. The one with the golden background represents the Eastern Christian tradition, and is by the iconographer Emmanuel Lambardos of Crete. The other, emblematic of Mel Gibson's Western tradition, is by the Dutch painter Hendrick ter Brugghen.

The Meaning of Christ’s Suffering

[Books & Culture, March-April 2004]* Selected for Best Christian Writing 2006* Most movies wait till after they're released to stir up controversy, but Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ” has been preceded by nearly a year of fisticuffs. It provided an unusually rich opportunity for people who don't know what they're talking about to do just that. I'll continue that tradition by admitting that, as I write this, I still have not seen the film. I expect it will be good movie-making, a powerful example of the artistic possibilities of film. I hope it will stir up old faith in Christians, and break forth new faith in unbelievers.

What Mel Missed

[Beliefnet, September 24, 2003] Most of us have yet to see Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion,’ but we’ve gained one sure impression: it’s bloody. ‘I wanted to bring you there,’ Gibson told Peter J. Boyer in September 15’s New Yorker magazine. ‘I wanted to be true to the Gospels. That has never been done before.’ This goal means showing us what real scourging and crucifixion would look like.

Sin: Infection or Infraction?

[Again, June 2003] Often in conversations with Christians of other traditions I find myself explaining the Orthodox view of sin. For most Western Christians, sin is a matter of doing bad things, which create a debt to God, and which somebody has to pay off. They believe that Jesus paid the debt for our sins on the Cross-paid the Father, that is, so we would not longer bear the penalty. The central argument between Protestants and Catholics has to do with whether “Jesus paid it all” (as Protestants would say) or whether, even though the Cross is sufficient, humans are still obligated (as Catholics would say) to add their own sacrifices as well.

Hot dog, It’s Lent!

[Our Sunday Visitor, March 23, 2003] Well, not hot dog, exactly. Not hamburger either, or fried chicken, or filet-o-fish; not even a milkshake. And that’s no baloney. What’s left? Grains, vegetables, and fruits: oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, spaghetti marinara for dinner. You get to know the mysteries of soy. (My friend Juli sings: “You made me tofu; I didn’t wanna try it, I thought I’d rather diet.”)

Interview: Orthodoxy and Protestants

Modern Reformation, March 2003] FREE SPACE An Interview with Frederica Mathews-Green: The Church-A View From the East The author of numerous books, most recently, The Illumined Heart, Frederica Mathewes-Green is a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition, a book reviewer for the Los Angeles Times and a columnist for Beliefnet.com. Her book, Facing East, charts her movement from being an evangelical Episcopalian to her embrace of Eastern Orthodoxy. Among other things, we asked Frederica to help us understand why a number of evangelicals are attracted to Orthodoxy.

Time to Repent-Whoopee!

[Dallas Morning News, February 1, 2003] My husband came into my office one day to find me frowning at the computer screen. “I'm stuck,” I said. “I can't figure out how to make repentance sound appealing.” In the ten years since I became a member of the Orthodox Church, that's been the biggest surprise to me: the unfolding joy of repentance. Every year about this time we get onto the long on-ramp to Lent, which will begin March 10 and last for seven long weeks till Easter (we call it Pascha). It's an intensely penitential time, marked by many extra church services and intensified fasting. I can't wait.

Archbishop Dmitri

[Christianity Today, May 21, 2001]  It's not a ten-gallon hat; the soft, tall cap of black cloth could have been tailored over a one-gallon milk jug. Fronted by a gold metal cross, the hat tops a Dallas clergy leader who looks more like mountain man than a televangelist. At age 78, Archbishop Dmitri Royster' s face is deeply lined