The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

There is a death that leads to death and there is a death that leads to life. In them are hidden the meaning of all things. As we approach Pascha, I continue to marvel at St. John’s description of Christ in Revelation 13, as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” It is a Death before death. This is the Death by which death will be trampled down.  The warning…

Get Out of Hell Free

The Saturday before Palm Sunday is known as Lazarus Saturday among the Orthodox, and they celebrate Christ raising him from the dead just prior to His entrance into Jerusalem (gospel of John). It is a feast that offers something of a preview of Christ’s resurrection, and a foretaste of the General Resurrection at the End of the Age. Some years back I sat in a cave that is purported to be the grave of…

A Lesser Atonement

It has long been known that people tend to see what they think they are seeing. This is particularly the case where what we think is familiar and expected. The case of “mistaken identity” flows from our assumptions and expectations. This is no where more true than when we are reading Scripture. If a passage has years of associations, it is almost impossible to see anything else. I have noticed this to…

The Earth Stood Still

Orthodox Christians commemorate the death (Dormition) of the Virgin Mary during the month of August (New Calendar, the 15th, Old Calendar, the 28th). For those for whom such feasts are foreign, it is easy to misunderstand what the Orthodox are about – and to assume that this is simply a feast to Mary because we like that sort of thing. Flippant attitudes fail to perceive the depths of the mystery of our…

The Human Project

“Becoming human” is a baffling phrase. Surely we are simply born as human beings. Of course this is true, but the nature of the modern world allows us to configure our lives in ways that can be described as “less than human.” When we visit a zoo and see a tiger pacing in its cage, we are not seeing a “true” tiger, but a distortion of the animal. Tigers cannot truly be…

Harlots and Drunkards at the Last Banquet

Since we were thinking about Dostoevsky… Once a week I teach a class at a local alcohol and drug treatment program. It is on the “spirituality of recovery.” Recently I shared Marmaladov’s speech from Crime and Punishment (at the end of this article). There were tears in the room. For many, the version of the gospel they have heard only condemns. Most of the men I meet want to get well, to get sober.…

Pentecost and the Liturgy of Hades

Pascha (Easter) comes with a great note of joy in the Christian world. Christ is risen from the dead and our hearts rejoice. That joy begins to wane as the days pass. Our lives settle back down to the mundane tasks at hand. After 40 days, the Church marks the Feast of the Ascension, often attended by only a handful of the faithful (Rome has more-or-less moved the Ascension to a Sunday…

Legal Problems

I find almost nothing as useless when thinking about God or the human condition as legal imagery. Indeed, it is worse than useless – it leads only to wrong conclusions and even produces the wrong questions. That some language within the Scriptures lends itself to legal imagery is undeniable – although modern legal thought bears almost no resemblance to the thoughts surrounding the Law (Torah) in the Old Testament. Legal language is…

If We Confess Our Sins

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jo 1:9) Confession is treated as one of the sacraments (mysteries) of the faith. In most cases it is done with a priest, within the confines of the canonical discipline of the Church. But what makes a good confession? I have written here recently that sin is not a “legal” problem.…

The Scope of Passover and Penal Substitution Theory

One of the terms used in the early fathers when interpreting the Scriptures was the “scope” of Scripture. By this they meant backing away from the detail of the text to see the larger picture, the “scope” of a broad reading. This technique was particularly valued in the so-called Antiochene School of interpretation, which is usually associated with a more historical/literal reading of Scripture. The failure to see the “scope” of the…