The Seat of Mercy and the End of the Legal View

Among the more problematic words in the New Testament is the Greek hilasterion. It is translated as “propitiation” in some of the older English Bibles, and “expiation,” in newer ones. It’s actual meaning is neither. The word literally means “the place of mercy,” and is the Greek word used in the Old Testament (LXX) to describe the “Mercy Seat” on the Ark of the Covenant. In Leviticus, the ritual for atonement is…

Blood Brothers of the Incarnation

My childhood in the 1950’s had the innocence of the time, fed by stories of our elders and the clumsy movies. We played soldiers (everyone’s father had been in the Second World War) and “Cowboys and Indians.” Despite the clear bias of the movies and the slanted propaganda that passed for history, almost everyone wanted to be an Indian. Cowboys never seemed terribly romantic, while the Indians clearly knew how to survive…

A Faith You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

In a now-famous experiment, volunteers were fitted with inverting lenses, such that everything they saw appeared upside-down. In a few days their brains adjusted and what they saw appeared correctly. When the lenses were removed, their naked eyes now saw things inverted, though again, after a few days their vision returned to normal. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and created in such a fashion we adapt to even very strange circumstances.…

The Secular Mind versus the Whole Heart

  Thinking is among the most misleading things in the modern world, or, to be more precise, thinking about thinking is misleading. For a culture that puts such a great emphasis on materiality, our thinking about thought is decidedly spooky. The philosophy underlying our strangely-constructed modernity is called nominalism (of which there are many formal varieties). It’s imaginary construct of the world consists of decidedly separate objects, united only by our thinking…

A Truly Rational Faith

St. Paul notes that “faith works through love” (Gal. 5:6). This describes the very heart of the ascetic life. Only love extends itself in the self-emptying struggle against the passions without becoming lost in the solipsism of asceticism for its own sake. It is love that endures the contradictions of reality without turning away or reducing them. And it is love that finally comprehends the reality hidden within the contradictions that confront…

To Become My Enemy

With the unending political cycle that is America’s public life, there is also an endless identification of enemies. And, of course, this year the enemies seem to come out of central casting – it would be hard to invent characters more susceptible to caricature. The Church has entered something of a political season as well. The upcoming Holy and Great Council has already revealed various fault lines that have long existed within…

Prayers for the Dead

The Orthodox pray for the departed. The most pressing prayer within the liturgies appointed for this purpose is for God to forgive their sins. We say, “For no one lives and does not sin, for You only are without sin….” This is easily misunderstood, but it goes to the very heart of the mystery of our relationship with God. The same sentiment, interestingly, is offered in the prayers for the living. The…

The Matter of our Salvation

Perhaps the most obvious thing for a visitor to an Orthodox Church are the presence and place of icons. They are literally everywhere. Some Churches are covered completely with iconography and no Orthodox Church is ever without them. That Churches are so decorated might not strike someone as unusual. After all, many Catholic Churches, particularly in Europe are highly decorated (think of the Sistine Chapel). But the difference is that a visitor…

Unity, the One Cup and the Fire of God

Ecumenism is back in the news and with it comes a deluge of misunderstanding and theological confusion. For while “unity” and the very concept of “one” are actually inherently mystical, most who write about and discuss the topic substitute a merely human, political and administrative notion. Two key verses are frequently drawn from the 17th chapter of St. John’s gospel:  Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in…

The Purpose of Mystery, Paradox and Contradiction

Orthodox Christianity is deeply associated with the word “mystery.”  Its theological hymns are replete with paradox, repeatedly affirming two things to be true that are seemingly contradictory. Most of these things are associated with what is called “apophatic” theology, or a theology that is “unspeakable.” This same theological approach is sometimes called the Via Negativa. This is easily misunderstood in common conversation. An Orthodox discussion takes place and reaches an impasse. Inevitably,…