With Envy and Justice for All

We use many words and concepts in our daily lives without bothering to consider their true content. In my experience, few words are less examined than “justice.” It is a word that is foundational in the modern world with deep roots in religious tradition. Most people would agree that the desire for justice is virtually innate in human beings. However, it has a dark side of which very few seem to be…

As Lent Moves On – The Greatest Fast Awaits

As Great Lent has passed its mid-point, attention begins to move towards Holy Week itself and its very intense focus. It has been an unusual time for me, having traveled on two successive weekends to lead retreats. Travel is always disruptive, and absence from your own community creates a break in the normal continuity of the Fast. I have great sympathies for those whose jobs involve frequent travel. It adds a difficult…

The Ladder of Divine Ascent and Moral Improvement

The Fourth Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, is dedicated to St. John Climacus, the author of the ancient work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is a classic work describing “steps” within the life of the struggling ascetic. There is an icon associated with this work, picturing monastics climbing the rungs of a ladder to heaven, battling demons who are trying to pull them off. However, ladders are dangerous…

A Modern Lent

Few things are as difficult in the modern world as fasting. It is not simply the action of changing our eating habits that we find problematic – it’s the whole concept of fasting and what it truly entails. It comes from another world. We understand dieting – changing how we eat in order to improve how we look or how we feel. But changing how we eat in order to know God…

The Mystery, Upborne, Fulfilled

Orthodoxy has a number of “favorite” words – all of which fall outside the bounds of normal speech. Though we commonly use the word “mystery” (for example), popular speech never uses it in the manner of the Church. I cannot remember using the word “fullness,” or even “fulfilled,” in normal speech. More contemporary words have come to replace these expressions. This doesn’t mean that an English speaker has no idea of what…

When Icons Became Windows

Some thirty years ago I was doing doctoral work at Duke University under Geoffrey Wainwright. I was drawn to Wainwright on account of his commitment to liturgical tradition and practice as the ground of theology. A course that became a turning point in my studies was on the nature of language in theology. Like all work in the program, it was not a course filled with answers, but a careful discipline of…

Truth, Lies and Icons

As verbal beings, we live in a world of icons. We experience the world in an iconic fashion. A major difficulty for us is that we have lost the vocabulary of iconic reality. We have substituted the language of photography. The dissonance between reality and our photographic assumptions has led us to doubt both. Man is an iconographer and needs to re-learn what that means. +++ Franz Kafka famously wrote: “The Lie…

Facing Up to God

  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor. 3:18 Among the most striking of all images in St. Paul’s writing is his description of beholding the glory of God with an unveiled face. It’s a very difficult passage to translate. The word rendered “beholding” in the translation quoted above is actually…

Forgiveness and the Whole Adam

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;  (John17:20-21) The Elder Sophrony, together with St. Silouan, wrote about the “whole Adam.” By this, they meant all the human beings who have ever existed and those yet to come. For Silouan and Sophrony, this was something known in the present tense, a “hypostatic” knowledge of the fundamental unity of the human race.…

Judgment with a Mixed Bag

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn puts his finger on the…