Pascha 1928 – Letter from a Soviet Prison

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…

An Atonement of Shame

Some decades ago in my early (Anglican) priesthood, a parishioner brought a crucifix back from South America. The question for me as a priest was whether I would accept the crucifix as a gift and place it in the Church. I like crucifixes, my taste was always towards the Catholic direction. But, you have to bear in mind that Spanish/Latin crucifixes have a tendency to be, well, rather gory. My congregation was…

Let’s Get Out Of This Place

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…

This Time Is That Time – Holy Week Thoughts

At the very heart of traditional Christian worship is an understanding of time. “This time is that time.” When the Jews gathered for Passover and recited the words given to them, they said, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Passover was not (and is not) a historical re-enactment, nor a simple memorial in which things done long ago are remembered. The key word is “we.” The events in Egypt and at…

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…

“Knowing With My Knower” – The Nous

Years ago, I had a parishioner whose spiritual life was quite rich and occasionally astounding. She cared for a handicapped husband for years with a gentleness and love that radiated joy to people around them. One of her phrases that has stuck with me was, “I know it with my knower.” It was what she said when she was trying to express a spiritual perception of something she knew to be true.…

An Unnecessary Existence

In Dostoevsky’s The Demons, the character, Kirillov, is insanely fascinated with freedom. He cannot bear the fact that he did not choose his own existence. Life is a “given.” In what must be seen as a parable of the radical thought of the 19th century, Kirillov determines to kill himself, the only act of true freedom he can take. His insight about the necessity of his own existence and its lack of…

Faith, Doubt, Theology and Suspicion

  I have been slowly reading my way through John Gray’s book, Seven Types of Atheism. It is not an argument with Atheism so much as a study of its underpinnings, strengths and weaknesses (Gray himself is an atheist). Apparently, what someone does not believe in is just as important as what someone does believe in. Not all atheisms are equal. I was particularly struck by this note regarding the non-belief of…

Giving Thanks

The act of giving thanks is among the most fundamental acts of love. It lies at the very heart of worship – in which, in the words of Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex, there is an exchange. In giving thanks we make an offering which itself is always inferior to what we have received – but which is itself an enlargement of the human heart. To live rightly in the presence and communion…

Sentiment, Suffering and Death

I awoke in the middle of the night to a strange thought. It did not seem to come out of a dream but was simply there in my mind. The thought was something like this: “They will have parties to celebrate suicides.” What the thought meant was that a day is coming in which people will gather for something of a “send-off” party, to celebrate someone’s decision to die. Euthanasia parties. It…