Bookends and the Resurrection

A series of recent conversations with a parishioner turned up the problem of “bookends,” that is, questions of the beginning and the end. It is only natural in our day and age to attack problems in this manner. “How did it start?” is  a way of saying, “What is it?” The end, of course, is not so obvious, other than its connection with our insatiable desire to know how things will turn…

A Pascha of Beauty – In a Soviet Prison – 1928

Serge Schmemann, son of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his wonderful little book, Echoes of a Native Land, records a letter written from one of his family members of an earlier generation, who spent several years in the prisons of the Soviets and died there. The letter, written on the night of Pascha in 1928 is to a family member, “Uncle Grishanchik” (This was Grigory Trubetskoi who had managed to emigrate to Paris). This…

Unbelief and Good Friday

  Christmas and Easter are often difficult days for those who do not believe in God. Christians are more public about their faith than at other times of the year and this brings with it an annoyance. Christmas bespeaks the birth of God as a human being. Easter bespeaks a resurrection from the dead. For those who do not believe, such miracles, spoken of so glowingly and with such assurance by Christians,…

The Mystery of Holy Week and Pascha

This past weekend, Orthodox Churches began the observation of Holy Week. The services are long and plentiful. In my parish, from Lazarus Saturday to Pascha, there will be somewhere on the order of 40 hours of services. It is a large parish effort. Most of the services have the participation of the full choir. Last night, I had the anxious face of a young server in the altar who politely wanted to…

Not a Single Individual Will Be Saved

Perhaps the most striking thing about human beings is that we don’t actually come into existence by ourselves. There are parents (two of them when the laws of biology are allowed to work). The parents themselves are points of contact to a much larger world of the family and the culture itself. Human beings do not come without cultures. In a relatively short time, we acquire language and a host of other…

The Sins of a Nation

Can a nation ever sin? If so, how can it be forgiven? The stories and prophetic writings of the Old Testament are replete with examples of national sin. There are certainly stories of God dealing with individuals, but, on the whole, His attention seems to be directed to Israel and other nations as a whole. The promises and pledges are made to a collective people and the chastisement falls on the whole…

Second Thoughts on Success

I have had a few emails and other notes regarding my recent articles on Providence and a non-modern spiritual life. To speak about a life that is not understood in terms of progress, but in terms of its struggles and weakness is the antithesis of the modern ideal. No matter how bad things might be, at some point, we are always assured that they can get better. “Getting better” has become the…

When Chaos Ruled the World – Part I

In the ancient civilizations of the Near East there were strange stories about the place of chaos in the beginning of all things – and the chaos is specifically located in water. It seems odd to me that people who largely lived in arid countries should imagine the world beginning as a watery chaos – but that is certainly what they did. The Egyptians imagined the world’s beginning as a watery chaos…

Theophany – The Waters Were Afraid

When I was seven years old, I “went forward” one Sunday morning in response to a preacher’s invitation. I wasn’t at all certain what was going on, but I mostly thought that I was “choosing sides.” Later that week, the preacher came and visited my home. He met privately with me and plied me with questions. When he was done, he shook his head and said to my mother, “He’s only seven…

A Difficult Orthodoxy

The difference between “right glory” and “right doctrine,” noted in my previous article, goes much deeper than services of worship. It is true that the Church has, throughout her history, taken great care with liturgical practice so that what is done gives expression to what is believed. The two should be seamless. This, however, becomes ever more difficult when it extends to our lives. Frequently, we settle for “right doctrine,” and “right…