This Is My Body

The most fundamental experience of being human is biological. We enter the world in a state of biological dependence, having left an utterly symbiotic existence in the womb. Parents’ first thoughts about a child are consumed with biological issues. Nursing, digestion, sleep, and various discomforts rightly occupy the often sleep-deprived parents of newborns. Conversations among young mothers tend to circle around those issues. Biology is primary. When something is biologically amiss, everything…

Knocking Down the Gates of Hell

The Swedish Lutheran theologian, Gustav Aulen, published a seminal work on the types of atonement theory in 1930 (Christus Victor). Though time and critical studies have suggested many subtler treatments of the question, no one has really improved on his insight. Especially valuable was his description of the “Classic View” of the atonement. This imagery, very dominant in the writings of the early Fathers and in the liturgical life of the Eastern…

The Bridegroom and Judgment

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching; and again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.  Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.  But rouse yourself crying: Holy, holy, holy, art Thou, O our God.  Through the Theotokos, have mercy on us. +…

Lazarus Saturday

Largely ignored by much of Christendom, the Orthodox mark the day before Palm Sunday as “Lazarus Saturday” in something of a prequel to the following weekend’s Pascha. It is, indeed a little Pascha just before the greater one. And this, of course, was arranged by Christ Himself, who raised His friend Lazarus from the dead as something of a last action before entering Jerusalem and beginning His slow ascent to Golgotha through…

The Limits of Holiness

I saw a commercical recently that proclaimed, “Freedom has no limits!” It sought to capture the modern imagination with what is a patently absurd statement. Everything in creation has limits – that is the nature of created things. It is nonetheless the case that we can imagine our life without limits – a shameless existence where nothing impedes our pleasure. This was the inner world of a young woman in Alexandria who…

The Ladder of Your Daily Life

Perhaps the most prominent ladder in our culture is the one associated with careers. It is an image of the American road to success. We begin at or near the bottom and, step by step, make our way towards the top. It is a metaphor that works well with our modern notions of hard work, persistence and reward. It also serves as a justification for many of the structures in our society…

Can Shame Ever Be Healthy?

When I first began to research the topic of shame, I was surprised to find so little mention or use of the word in the Fathers. There are a few significant examples in which shame features largely, such as Book 4 in The Ladder. Nevertheless, the word seems somewhat scarce if you think about the profound nature of this experience and its place in the spiritual life. What became clear to me…

The Despised God

  In On the Orthodox Faith, St. John of Damascus declares: ‘The Son is the image of the Father, and the Spirit the image of the Son’. Such statements are easily read and passed over as among the more obvious Trinitarian statements. I add to this statement another from St. Irenaeus: “That which is invisible of the Son is the Father, and that which is visible of the Father is the Son.”…

Christianity in a Plain Brown Wrapper

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2Co 3:18) Among the many losses within modern Christianity has been the place of transformation. Nineteenth century revival movements and theology emphasized a single experience that was associated with salvation. Those who concerned themselves with what came…

Naked and Ashamed: Dealing with It

The Scriptures record that Adam was ashamed and hid. It’s a primal response. Shame is experienced as a burning sense of exposure and vulnerability. It begs to be clothed upon and hidden. It is possible to say that human beings have been playing “dress-up” ever since. This can be understood in a literal manner as we wrap ourselves in fashion statements or tattoo identities on our skin. It can also be seen…