Abraham, the Righteous, and the Prayers of Our Holy Fathers

Many services of the Church conclude with this prayer: “Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and save us!” Since we ourselves are praying directly to Christ, why do we invoke the prayers of others? Are our prayers so weak, or is His mercy so hard to come by? Like so much else in the Church, the answer reveals an even greater mystery. In…

Saving My Neighbor – Just How Connected Are We?

  If you are in the “helping professions,” confronting problems in people’s lives, it doesn’t take long to realize that no one is purely and simply an individual. The problems we suffer may occasionally appear to be “of our own making,” but that is the exception rather than the rule. Whether we are thinking of economic or genetic inheritance, or the psychological and social environment, almost all the issues in our lives…

Finding God Amidst the Noise

If I say one hundred prayers a day in the silence of Katounakia and you say three prayers amidst the tumult of the city and your professional and family obligations, then we are equal.   St. Ephraim of Katounakia I ran across this small quote recently and was struck by its insight and typical Orthodox generosity. The kindness of the saints is among their most encouraging aspects. It also echoes a theme that…

Healing the Soul and Unbelief

I have long been convinced that “believing” is grounded in something other than intellectual activity. I am simply unimpressed by most of the intellectual arguments that I see regarding both belief and unbelief. In both, I hear so much that is unspoken, and even much that is likely hidden from the speakers themselves. That being the case (if I am right), then conversations about belief require great patience and not a little…

What Exactly Is Changing?

The Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his magisterial work on St. Gregory of Nyssa, offers this observation: The journey towards salvation is marked by a successive elimination of all that we “have,” in order to reach what we “are.” The safest path and surest refuge is not to be deluded and fail to recognize ourselves – who we truly are. We should not believe that we are seeing our Selves…

The Truth of the Soul

“Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving, forever?” In the classic film, The Third Man, Harry Lime, a racketeer in post-World War II Vienna, quizzes his old friend, Holly Martins, about the value of an individual life. They are standing in the carriage of a Ferris wheel, looking down on the city scape. From Lime’s perspective, the distance provides a detachment that makes morality obsolete. “Have…

Pentecost and the Liturgy of Hades

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 Sacrifice of Worship

When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22), there was no questioning on Abraham’s part about what was intended. He understood precisely what was involved in such a thing. There was wood to be gathered, an altar of stones to be constructed, the victim to be bound, and then the slitting of its throat with the gushing forth of blood, all consummated in the burning fires of the now-completed…

The Kingdom of God – One-Storey in Time

Among the stranger phrases found in St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy is this: It was You Who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away [past tense], You raised us up again [past tense], and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven [past tense], and had endowed us [past tense] with Your kingdom which is to come [future tense]. It is…

Life in the Fog of the World

  In December of 1990, fog rolled into a stretch of I-75 between Knoxville and Chattanooga. Visibility quickly became a problem. The result was a fiery 99 car pile-up with 12 deaths and 42 injuries. Such tragedies are repeated from time-to-time across the country, with fog, rain, snow, and ice as the primary culprits. If you have ever been involved in such road conditions, then you probably remember something of the panic…