Boundaries, Borders, and the True God

Years ago, as a young seminarian, I wanted to paint icons. I knew nothing about icons, only that I liked them and that they were holy. The vast wealth of books and materials on their meaning and even on the technique of painting them simply did not exist. My knowledge of painting was also non-existent. But rushing in like a fool, I bought materials (none of which were correct) and stretched a…

Self-Emptying and Self-Fulfillment

There are many ways to imagine or describe human existence. Perhaps the darkest of all can be seen in the writings of the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. He essentially described human beings as living in a constant state of competition. Our “natural state” is one of self-interest. He famously wrote of the state of nature: In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently…

The Tree Heals the Tree

  Readers of the New Testament are familiar with St. Paul’s description of Christ as the “Second Adam.” It is an example of the frequent Apostolic use of an allegoric reading of the Old Testament (I am using “allegory” in its broadest sense – including typology and other forms). Christ Himself had stated that He was the meaning of the Old Testament (John 5:39). Within the Gospels Christ identifies His own death…

Veneration and the Heart

  No doubt, reaching for words where few exist, the Seventh Ecumenical Council made a careful distinction between “worship” (latria) and “honor” (proskynesis or dulia). Latria, it is said, has the character of sacrifice and is due to God alone. English, perhaps among the least precise of all languages, has used the word “worship” for both concepts. Thus, certain positions within the state are addressed as “your worship.” The old English service of…

The Whole Adam

Mt. Athos, in popular treatments, is often described as a “male enclave,” a place where no woman has set foot in a thousand years (this is not actually true). The exclusion of women from the Holy Mountain is deeply offensive to some (cf. European Union) and is imagined as a bastion of machismo in a cassock. It is therefore strange to discover, when you visit the Holy Mountain, that the central figure…

God and the Box

It is a commonplace that you “cannot put God in a box.” It is an affirmation of the transcendence of God and of the limits of human understanding. It is also a common rhetorical ploy to shut down a theological discussion. But, let’s think a little more about the box. I am deeply averse to statements that begin: “God cannot.” They are often little more than bad theological reasoning. For example, “God…

Into the Heart

Met. Kallistos Ware famously shared the story of his conversion (at least its initiation) as he ducked into a Russian Orthodox Cathedral one afternoon only to encounter the service of Vespers in progress. His account contained no detailed analysis of what he saw. Rather, it was the story of a heart – a heart confronting the Holy in a profound manner. It is the sort of an encounter that can change your…

The Communion of Tradition

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life–the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us–that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also…

Why Everything Is Important (but not the stuff you might imagine)

  My Dad was an auto-mechanic, and a good one. He worked in the pre-computerized engine days. The way cars and trucks operated was pretty much the same as the airplane engines he worked on in World War II. I never learned more than a fraction of what he knew, but I learned a few things. This one is very important: “It’s usually not the carburetor.” He would come home from work…

The Tangled Web

Sir Walter Scott (1808) famously wrote: “O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” A modern pundit has rephrased it: “Always tell the truth…it’s easier to remember.” Lies inevitably create a web of false narratives. In many ways, it’s a metaphor for sin itself. Sin begets sin that begets sin and the web ensnares us into a world of un-truth. A single thread of a spider’s web…