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…

Seeds from Different Worlds

God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this earth, and His garden grew, and everything came up that could come up, but all growing things live and are alive only through the feeling of their contact with other mysterious worlds. If that feeling grows weak or is destroyed in you, what has grown up in you will die. Then you will become indifferent to life and even grow to…

Beholding God Face to Face

During this season of mask-wearing, we have become weary of a “faceless” existence. I can think of nothing that is more de-personalizing that the hiding of our face. I respect the science (and certainly would not want a surgeon operating on me without a mask). But I lament our common experience even as I pray for this time to pass. I also think, however, of how many masks we have all worn…

Doors, Windows, Mirrors, and the Secret Place

My first impression of the monasteries on Mt. Athos began with their doors: massive, thick, iron and steel configurations with bars and locks. They are not decorative in the least. They are meant to keep out marauding Turkish pirates and the like. The walls of the monasteries are similar in their function. The whole structure, complete with the crenelations on the tops of the walls are more castle-like than anything else I…

Hagia Sophia and the Evil Eye

The opening psalm of Great Vespers sings: “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom have You made them all!” It is a line we hear so frequently in the Church that it is easy to overlook its significance. The universe of all created things does not simply exist – it exists in a manner that reveals a wisdom beyond our understanding. Nothing in modern science has diminished the wonder that…

Words As Icons

Creation has a sacramental purpose: it reveals God. For from the first making of the world, those things of God which the eye is unable to see, that is, his eternal power and existence, are fully made clear, he having given the knowledge of them through the things which he has made (Rom. 1:20) This is inherently true in things as they exist in nature. However, it becomes another matter as things…

Beauty and Iconoclasm – Where We Find God

Every human being is an icon of God…so iconoclasm is a much larger matter than smashing statues and such. It also includes the hatred of others and the injustice that grinds them into the dust. The quiet iconoclasm of poverty and the like are insidious in that they’re so quiet they look like an act of nature. Iconoclasm can only be overcome through love, the love of the beauty of the image…

Venerating Icons – It’s So Much Other Than You Think

In 1991, I sat in a room at Duke University with Geoffrey Wainwright, Stanely Hauerwas, and Susan O’Keefe. The purpose was the defense of my thesis, “The Icon as Theology.” I was an Episcopal priest, who was turning his doctoral work in Systematic Theology into an M.A. and heading back to parish life (a long story, that). The defense was friendly, thorough, with few surprises. The one major surprise, of course, came…

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…