Orthodoxy, Systematic Theology, and Music

I have heard it said, numerous times, that Orthodox Christianity “does not do” systematic theology. Having done my graduate studies in systematic theology, I occasionally bristle at the comment, particularly when those making it have never actually studied the subject. It is true that Orthodoxy does not do “systematic” theology, as such, but the statement can be quite misleading, implying that there’s no place for systematics in Orthodoxy and that studying it…

What a Caveman Said: To Perceive That Which Is Eternal

Fr. Alexander Schmemann described “secularism” as the greatest heresy of our time. He didn’t describe it as a political movement, nor a threat from the world outside Christianity. Rather, he described it as a “heresy,” that is, a false teaching from within the Christian faith. What is secularism? Secularism is the belief that the world exists independent of God, that its meaning and use are defined by human beings. Things are merely…

Preaching the Gospel to the Poor

A conversation on social media gave rise to this post.  ________ And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed…

Guilt and Shame – What’s The Difference?

There is a very handy saying that differentiates between guilt and shame. Guilt is about what I have done – shame is about who I am. They are not unrelated, particularly in a culture in which what we do is often given as an answer to the question, “Who are you?” Traditional American culture has often been described as “guilt-based,” in that Protestant religious thoughts centered on goodness as responsibility for our…

What To Do With What You Know

In a world driven by information, it is more than a little easy to mistake knowing something as important and good in and of itself. As such, the acquisition of spiritual information is something of a going industry. In a Russian novel written back in the 90’s, a woman intellectual encounters a monk who is restoring an ancient monastery in Georgia. During a conversation, she brings up a quote from St. Maximus.…

A Cruciform Providence

The entire mystery of the economy of our salvation consists in the self-emptying and abasement of the Son of God – St. Cyril of Alexandria Trust in the providence of God is much more than a general theory of how things are arranged in our lives and in the world. We tend to discuss the notion in the abstract, wondering whether this action or event is to be properly attributed to God.…

Forged in the Fires of a Dying Sun

Today I stood at the altar and marveled at the gold of the chalice. It is, of course, supremely blessed, holding (as it does) the very Blood of God. But I was simply thinking of its journey to that altar, its transformation, indeed, its transmutation. If the science of cosmology is followed, then heavy elements such as gold have a very unique origin. The free elements of the universe such as simple…

Doing the Good You Can Do

St. John the Baptist confronted a difficult question. Soldiers came to him (it’s not clear what kind of soldiers these were). We are told: Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” Luke 3:14 The implication of his answer is that extortion and brutality were a common…

The Light of Christ and the Transfiguration

My attention was drawn to the event of the Transfiguration during my college years. It was then that I first read a book on St. Seraphim of Sarov, who himself was transfigured in a famous incident in his conversation with Motivilov. There, on a snowy winter’s day, the saint shown with a brilliant light, and Motivilov felt effused with warmth and joy. It caught my attention in the most obvious way. I…

Messiness in the Modern World

Salvation can be messy. I believe this with all my heart and so I state it at the outset of this article. As such, it marks me as a heretic in Modernity. I not only believe that salvation is messy – I believe that messiness is pretty much inherent to salvation. And along with that, I believe that our aversion to messiness (in all things) is a peculiar affliction of the modern…