The Walls of Paradise – and the Fire of God

I love walls. Perhaps the most charming aspect of medieval cities are their use of walls. Some surrounded the city and served as protection. Others surrounded smaller areas and prevented easy access and egress (perhaps understandable in a world with lots of animals present). There were other walls that signaled “higher” boundaries. In a medieval world, the “order” of things was thought important: kings and commoners, high-born and low-born, masters, yeomen, and…

Echoes of a Fresh Start

Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:2) There are many things about the “elder” years of my life that I prefer to my youth. Had I known then what I know now, perhaps the statement would not be true. Nonetheless, the providence of God has preserved me and brought me to…

Love and Freedom

  The most difficult aspect of love is the freedom it inherently requires. Love, in its ultimate and proper form, only exists between equals. There can be a sort of benevolence and nobility towards another who is not equal, but never love. This makes it difficult to understand the God-who-is-love. It will quickly be said by most that God is not our equal, and that we can never be His equal. What…

Thanksgiving Communion

Whom should I thank? The question is normally a matter of polite acknowledgement. A gift was given and received. Who gave it? Whom should I thank? It is inherently the nature of giving thanks that thanks must be given to someone. I cannot give thanks to nothing or no one. As such, the giving of thanks is an act of communion on one level or another. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in the last…

The Silent Song We Need To Hear

Music has its own “music.” There are the notes written on a page, and the notes played by an intstrument. It is a particular quality of instruments, however, that they not only play a certain note, but that “note” itself plays other “notes.” In general, these other notes are called, “overtones.” When ‘Middle C’ is played on a piano, every other ‘C’ on the keyboard will vibrate gently in harmonic sympathy. Indeed,…

I Will Go Into the Altar of God

Most of my early Church memories center around Sunday School (I think that we did not “stay for preaching” very often). The small Baptist church that we attended was about a mile from our house and was conveniently connected by a railroad track, generally inactive on Sundays. My older brother and I often walked along the track on Sunday mornings when the weather was pleasant. The earliest Bible verses I can recall…

Orthodoxy, Systematic Theology, and Music

I have heard it said, numerous times, that Orthodox Christianity “does not do” systematic theology. Having done my graduate studies in systematic theology, I occasionally bristle at the comment, particularly when those making it have never actually studied the subject. It is true that Orthodoxy does not do “systematic” theology, as such, but the statement can be quite misleading, implying that there’s no place for systematics in Orthodoxy and that studying it…

Museums, Churches, and My Back Yard

A great cry went up from Orthodox throats across the globe earlier this year when the Turkish government repurposed Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque. The cry was an echo of May 29, 1453, when the city of Constantinople fell to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. That day, and its pain, have remained an iconic tragedy of a lost world and an abiding sadness. No one dared ask that the Church…

The Gospel of Progress – and the New Jerusalem

American fans of Monty Python will be familiar with the opening lines of William Blake’s poem, “Jerusalem” (and I apologize to my British readers for such an introduction). The poem was set to music in 1916 and became deeply popular in post-war Britain. The Labour Party adopted it as a theme for the election of 1946. It recalls the legend of Christ’s visit to England as a child (taken there by St.…

Providence and the Music of Creation

God’s being and actions are one. This is essentially the teaching of the Church on the topic of the Divine Energies. When I read discussions about the Divine Energies – things seem to get lost in the twists and turns of medieval metaphysics or pass into the territory of seeing the “Uncreated Light.” Both approaches are unhelpful for me, and both obscure something that should be far more transparent. Some of the…