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,…

From the Beginning – True Authorial Intent

I read a discussion concerning my earlier article on allegory in which someone identified himself as a writer. He stated that if a reader saw something in his writing that he had not intended, then either he or his reader had failed. His statement is an extreme example of what is called “authorial intent”: what the author intends for the reader to see is indeed what the reader sees. Of course, no…

A Gifted Existence

You cannot give thanks for what has not been given to you. This simple maxim goes to the heart of the Christian life. If I steal your money and burn down your house, I cannot offer thanks for what I have done. It was not given to me from God. Anything that is not a gift has the nature of sin. I can give thanks to God that He meets me in…

Unecumenism – The Saving Union

My recent articles on the Church drew attention to the topic of union and its importance within the life of the Church – indeed, it is the life of the Church. Orthodox theology, when rightly considered, has a “seamless” quality: everything fits and one thing enlightens another. Perhaps the single most important thread in this seamless quality can be summed up in the term union. The word for union (ἕνωσις) does not actually…

Unecumenism and the Sins of All

The concept of the One Church shifted during the Reformation. I offer a case in point as well as a reflection on how it changes our current understanding. The old Anglican Book of Common Prayer offers one of the early examples of a subtle shift in Christian thinking and speech. In the Thanksgiving after Communion we read: Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in…

Consequences of the One Church – Unecumenism

In thinking through a theological question, I often engage in thought experiments. The Fathers might call it a form of theoria, but I won’t presume that word for myself. But what I do is to make a concerted effort to let go of unexamined assumptions. I look at a different set of assumptions and ask, “What if that were true?” The result many times yields a dead end. But knowledge of dead ends can…

No One Is Saved Alone

“If anyone falls, he falls alone. But no one is saved alone.” – Alexei Khomiakov Roughly 25 years ago I quit smoking. I never think about it now – it has become a thing of the distant past. But I can remember a period of about 10 years in which I struggled to quit. I would make up my mind, throw things away, make a clean sweep, and be back puffing away before…

The Problem of Goodness

Though many struggle with the so-called “Problem of Evil,” the greater moral problem is that of goodness. How do we account for goodness in the world – particularly self-sacrificing heroic goodness? It is not uncommon for a person in a dangerous situation to place their own life at risk in order to save the life of another. It is by no means universal (some act first to save themselves or are paralyzed…