Feeling Like a Fool

No one wants to feel like a fool. When it happens, our faces flush, we turn our eyes away (usually towards the ground). We usually want to hide or disappear, and, just as likely the burn in our face quickly passes to the hot burn of anger. Often what follows are words or actions we regret later. Having felt like a fool, we often act like one, unable to muster the calm…

Dostoevsky and the Sins of the Nation

For many, the idea that we are somehow responsible for the sins of others, or can repent on their behalf is counter-intuitive and deeply troubling. It is distinctly non individualistic. However, it is a cornerstone of Orthodox devotion. Dostoevsky presented a very popular version of this teaching in the words of the fictitious character, the Elder Zosima, in his The Brothers Karamozov. The elder was modeled, many say, on the elders of…

The Last Banquet

Since we’re thinking about heaven and hell… Once a week I teach a class at a local alcohol and drug treatment program. It is on the “spirituality of recovery.” Recently I shared Marmaladov’s speech from Crime and Punishment (at the end of this article). There were tears in the room. For many, the version of the gospel they have heard only condemns. Most of the men I meet want to get well, to get…

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

There is a death that leads to death and there is a death that leads to life. In them are hidden the meaning of all things. As we approach Pascha, I continue to marvel at St. John’s description of Christ in Revelation 13, as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” It is a Death before death. This is the Death by which death will be trampled down.  The warning…

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…

While We’re At It – An “Unmoral” Word from the Holy Mountain

In an effort to help my critics understand my articles, friends have sent me excellent links here and there. A link to a Lenten article by Fr. Alexis Trader (of Karakalou on the Holy Mountain) gives more witness to what has been said: The problem is that salvation and transfiguration are not a matter of morality. The publican and the prodigal were not moral people. They did all the wrong things, but…

Going to Hell with the Terrorists and Torturers

In 988, Prince Vladimir of Kiev was Baptized and embraced the Christian faith. Among his first acts as a Christian ruler were to tithe his wealth to the Church and the poor, and to outlaw capital punishment and torture. It is said that the Bishops advising him counseled him that he might need to keep the torture in order to rule effectively. This anecdote has always brought a wry smile to my…

Harlots and Drunkards at the Last Banquet

Since we were thinking about Dostoevsky… Once a week I teach a class at a local alcohol and drug treatment program. It is on the “spirituality of recovery.” Recently I shared Marmaladov’s speech from Crime and Punishment (at the end of this article). There were tears in the room. For many, the version of the gospel they have heard only condemns. Most of the men I meet want to get well, to get sober.…

The Marriage of Love and Hate

The genius of Dostoevsky lies in the profound theological insight of his tumbled novels. They can be difficult reads for many people – particularly in our modern setting. He has “too many characters” and they “talk a lot.” His characters are complex: I was a scoundrel, and yet, I loved God…  Good and evil are in a monstrous coexistence within man.  So says Dmitri Karamazov. And this statement describes all of Dostoevsky’s…

The Demons of our Time

In 1872, Dostoevsky published his novel, The Demons [Бесы]. It demonstrated in a microcosm, the insanity that lay within the revolutionary movements of 19th century Russia. That insanity broke upon the world in 1917 and has remained present with us, in one form or another, ever since. The madness that he describes takes place in a small town, away from the great capitals of Russia. It involves a relatively small cast of…