The Sacrament of the Soul

Fr. Alexander Schmemann famously said that sacraments do not make things into something else so much as they reveal things to be what they are. We hear this in St. Basil’s Liturgy when we ask God to “show” the bread and wine to be the Body and Blood of Christ. The Baptismal liturgy does the same, asking God to “show this water…to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the…

Can You Forgive Someone Else’s Enemies?

My thoughts have been drawn to this topic any number of times in the past few days. As we near the anniversary of the tragic events of 911, I see plaintive postings of that day saying, “Never forget” (or words to that effect). The Orthodox faith teaches us that the remembrance of the departed should be eternal (“Memory Eternal,” is our prayer). I suspect that what is being urged, however, is not…

Who’s Minding the Kids?

I was sitting in a Sunday School class, and was probably around eight or nine years old. I cannot remember what the Scripture was that day. However, the room was brought into a very serious state of mind as we were presented with something and were asked to sign it. I had never entered into a contract before, but had a sense that it was a very serious thing. The contract was…

Justice, Temperance, Prudence and the Virtue of “No”

I have sometimes quipped that children are born lawyers. Their cries of, “That’s not fair!” would be at home in any court in the world. Children reveal our instinct for fairness, the root concept in the virtue of justice. Of course, as every parent knows, that instinct is often distorted, with the desire for fairness being expressed only as “fairness for me.” Justice is a virtue with deep, visceral content. Whenever it…

A Crisis of Virtue – The Good That We Need

C.S. Lewis once said that courage is the “form of every virtue at its testing point.” It is easy to forget that figures such as Lewis, Tolkien, and even Chesterton, did not write during a time of Christian ascendancy. Lewis was denied a chair (a full professorship) at Oxford for years precisely because of his embarrassingly public profession of faith. To the “learned” sceptics around him, it made him seem “less than…

On the World as Sacrament

I learned my first psalms in public school. As I recall, they were Psalm 23 and Psalm 100. No one looked funny at the teacher when she introduced the topic and no one objected. First, we didn’t know we were allowed to object, and, second, none of us would have known any reason for not doing such a thing. We were a diverse class of children: with both Baptists and Methodists. We…

The Struggle Against The Normal Life

  Within the Christianity of our time, the great spiritual conflict, unknown to almost all, is between a naturalistic/secular world of modernity and the sacramental world of classical Christianity. The first presumes that a literal take on the world is the most accurate. It tends to assume a closed system of cause and effect, ultimately explainable through science and manageable through technology. Modern Christians, quite innocently, accept this account of the world…

The Kingdom Within

In December of 1849, the Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, stood waiting his turn for execution, having been found guilty of plotting against the Russian Tsar. At the last minute, under instructions from the Tsar, the sentence was commuted from death, to four years in a Siberian prison. Later that day, Dostoevsky wrote a famous letter to his brother, describing the experience. He was shaken and changed to the very core of his…

The Confusion of Loves

Among the “difficult” sayings of Jesus is this: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Lk 14:26 Of course, the statement is so extreme that it is quickly recognized as an exaggeration. Jesus is not asking us to hate our family (or even in our own…

Shame and the Modern Identity

It is a common definition that the emotion of shame is about “who I am.” It centers in feelings of exposure, unworthiness, and damaged identity. Guilt, they say, is about “what I have done.” There are ways to deal with guilt – but shame, if it is actually a matter of “who I am,” runs deep. It is little wonder that the wounds of shame can be toxic. Self-loathing and related pain…