Mere Morality

What makes an action moral? I use the word to describe something done in an effort to conform to a rule, a law, or a principle. It is a matter of the will and a matter of effort. All societies require some form of moral behavior. If there were no such behavior, life would be unpredictable, unstable, and quite dangerous. Governments encourage some form of morality (it is the sole purpose of…

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…

A Generous Repentance

I have learned over time to expect cultural expressions of the Orthodox faith that are mentioned nowhere in books and articles. Many of these surround major life events and their sacraments: Baptism, Marriage, Funerals. And so I was not surprised when the family of a recently deceased Romanian in my community called me for help giving away his clothes. I was told that it needed to be done before the end of…

The Erotic Language of Prayer

The very heart of true prayer is desire, love. In the language of the Fathers this desire is called eros. Modern usage has corrupted the meaning of “erotic” to only mean sexual desire – but it is a profound word, without substitute in the language of the Church. I offer a quote from Dr. Timothy Patitsas of Holy Cross in Brookline: By eros we mean the love that makes us forget ourselves…

In the Womb of the Modern World

A recent opinion column on the New York Times website suggested that Pope Francis should compromise on the “issue” of abortion. The sentiments offered reveal a great deal about what passes for serious thought in the modern world – including serious thought by a professor of philosophy (Gary Gutting) at a major Catholic University (Notre Dame). It illustrates much of what I have written in the last several posts about the “Modern…

No Wedding Vows

Few things differ more clearly between Eastern and Western Christianity than the service of Holy Matrimony. There are things found in Western Christian Marriage ceremonies that cannot be found in the East just as there are things in the East that cannot be found in the West. In many languages of the Eastern Churches, the service for a marriage is referred to as the “Crowning” – named for the central act within…

Sweet Commandments

Somewhere in the early ’70’s, I recall being in a group of Church youth. They were singing a song based on Psalm 19: The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring…

Godless Morality

Is it possible to be moral without believing in God? I would venture to say that moral is pretty much all there is without God. To be moral requires that we have some understanding of the rules governing our behavior and a willingness to live by those rules. I have pondered many times why someone has rules if they don’t believe in God (though a culture without rules would be decidedly against…

Church Scandals Must Come

Scandals must come (Matt. 18:7). These are the words of Christ. He tells us that scandals are not only likely to happen – but that they will happen. They are necessary (ἀνάγκη). Most readers will marvel that this is a quote from Jesus. The reason is simple: the Greek (ἀνάγκη γάρ ἐστιν ἐλθεῖν τὰ σκάνδαλα) is rarely translated in such a manner. “Stumbling blocks,” or “offenses,” is the more common way to render…