Hell, Justice and the Heart of Prayer – Thinking Like a Slave

In the third kneeling prayer of Pentecost, there is a boldness in which the Church pleads for the souls in Hell (Hades). It is a boldness that can stun the one who prays, easily wondering, “Are we allowed to ask for these things?” In general, all my life I have heard a rehearsal of the boundaries of hell. I have heard about who goes there, why they must stay there, why it…

Entering Hell on Pentecost – With Prayer

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…

The Healthy Shame at the Heart’s Core

Imagine: A large crowd has assembled and you know that something special has been planned. Unknown to you, however, is the fact that the something special is for and about you. At a given moment, you are called forward. A short speech detailing some extraordinary thing you have done is given. You had not thought anyone would notice, and you did not expect them to. However, you are being noticed. You are being…

The Paschal Gift

It is impossible to describe the joy of Pascha, particularly as I experience it as a priest. This year, I was deeply aware that I stand in a place that was both created for me, and for which I am unworthy. The joy of such a combination is the realization of the Gift. When you are trying to find a gift for someone, the most difficult part, it seems to me, is…

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, only…

The Abbreviated God

When an Orthodox Christian is asked questions about the faith, there is often a hesitation. The questions that come to mind are: “Where do I begin?” and “How much do I try and tell them?” For, in many ways the amount of information includes about 2,000 years of history and an encyclopedia’s worth of teaching, practice and customs. Sometimes, in the middle of such a conversation, the other person’s eyes become dull…

Being Saved – The Ontological Approach

I cannot begin to count the number of times I wished there were a simple, felicitous word for “ontological.” I dislike writing theology with words that have to be explained – that is, words whose meanings are not immediately obvious. But, alas, I have found no substitute and will, therefore, beg my reader’s indulgence for dragging such a word into our conversations. From the earliest times in the Church, but especially beginning…

The Scandal of the Transfiguration

My bishop recently shared the story of a young man whom he taught some years ago. He was Orthodox from Estonia. He grew up in the Soviet era and had come to hate all things Russian, including the Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, he saw an Orthodox procession in the streets of his city one year, a procession that included the Russian bishop (whom he also hated and believed to be a KGB agent).…

A Bunch of Stuff We Don’t Know

Reading discussions about life after death, it is easy to get the impression that people actually know what they’re talking about, that perhaps they have been there, seen what goes on and therefore authoritatively opine on the nature of things. But, the truth is that we mostly don’t know. We have a few things given to us in Scripture, and even those few things are often somewhat cryptic or uncertain. I will…

Living the Apocalypse

The world ended last Sunday (Pascha). No. You weren’t “left behind.” But you might not have noticed. And our not noticing is, strangely, at the very heart of our problem. It is also at the heart of the Christian faith. What I am describing is the “apocalyptic” character of Christianity – the fact that it is a revealing of something hidden. And this is not a “one-time” revelation. It is the moment-by-moment…