A Christian Ending to Our Life

Most moderate-sized American cities are dominated by two structures: bank buildings and hospitals. The former are often large and new because it’s where we like to put our money. The latter are large because we’re afraid to die and don’t want to be sick. Both are particularly modern structures. You could travel to ancient Pompei, were it to be completely reconstructed. You would find neither bank nor hospital. Of the two, hospitals…

A Parable of A Kingdom

There was a wicked kingdom in which there lived a large number of slaves. The kingdom fought wars, built cities and was extremely successful in growing its economy. Its achievements were the envy of all the other kingdoms. The slaves did well, too. They were not given low jobs or manual labor. Instead, they were “helping” slaves. Their task was to help the people of the Kingdom get by. If life in the…

Hidden from the Eyes of Modernity

“No one will know what you’re doing.” I recently took an evening for a movie – a fairly rare undertaking. The movie was Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, which depicts the story of a Catholic man and his family who refused to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler during World War II. He dies a martyr. The story is based in truth. Living in a small valley in the mountains of…

Into the Maw of Chaos

Here in Appalachia, there are many thousands of people whose lives move in and out of chaos. Less than a paycheck away from a cascade of debt-borne disasters, personal behaviors add even greater danger. There’s no room for messing up. As a priest in the area, the stories come through the doors of the Church looking for assistance. Frequently, there’s a need to explain. Someone pulls a wad of receipts and medical…

The Final Destruction of Demons – Holy Baptism

“Final” is not a word you often hear in Christian teaching. Most Christians leave the final things until, well, the End. But this is not the language of the fathers nor of the Church. A good illustration can be found in the Orthodox service of Holy Baptism. During the blessing of the waters the priest prays: And grant to [this water] the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the…

The Holy Name of Jesus

  In 1913, a small Russian fleet landed a contingent of soldiers who forcibly removed a group of Russian monks from Mount Athos. This action came at the end of a stormy controversy surrounding the name of God. The monks were known as the Imyaslavsy (“Name worshippers”) and were following ideas that had been promulgated in a text published in 1907. That work, On the Caucasus Mountains, written by the staretz, Schemamonk Hilarion,…

Entering the Mystery of Christmas

Orthodox Christianity is deeply associated with the word “mystery.”  Its theological hymns are replete with paradox, repeatedly affirming two things to be true that are seemingly contradictory. Most of these things are associated with what is called “apophatic” theology, or a theology that is “unspeakable.” This same theological approach is sometimes called the Via Negativa. This is easily misunderstood in common conversation. An Orthodox discussion takes place and reaches an impasse. Inevitably,…

Have a Dickens of a Christmas

In the late 1600’s in colonial Boston, the celebration of Christmas was against the law. Indeed, anyone evidencing the “spirit of Christmas” could be fined five shillings. In the early 1800’s, Christmas was better known as a season for rioting in the streets and civil unrest. However, in the mid-1800’s some interesting things changed the cultural response to the feast and, in 1870, Christmas was declared a federal holiday (which is to…

And God said: יְהִי אוֹר

I apologize for the Hebrew, but you’ll understand in a minute. And God said, “Let there be light” (“yehi’or”). There is an old mystical Jewish notion that when God created things, He did so by speaking them into existence, such that there was an exact correspondence between the word spoken and the thing created. On that basis, it was believed that a person speaking the same word (in Hebrew, of course) could…

Getting Our Heads Back Together

I recall being urged by my mother to eat the vegetables on my plate. I had my favorites, though not many, and have somehow managed to survive to this point in my life. There is a very practical side to eating. Despite the fact that it can give great pleasure, it has a direct connection to our health. Remembering this as an adult is not always easy. Strangely, religious belief seems to…