Remembering the End

Orthodox Christianity often seems inherently conservative. The unyielding place that tradition holds within its life seems ready-made for a conservative bulwark against a world all-too-ready to forget everything that is good or beautiful. There are subtle but important distinctions that make this treatment of Orthodoxy misleading and can lead to the distortion of the faith and an almost reverse image of our true salvation. Orthodox Christianity does not seek to preserve something…

I Can See Clearly Now

God is in charge of the outcome of history. This simple statement is one way of expressing the Christian doctrine of divine Providence. Perhaps an even more profound way would be a statement that affirms “all things work together for good.” However, no matter how this is said, it is often the least obvious of all Christian doctrines. It is also, I think, among the most necessary of Christian doctrines when it…

Shadows, Icons, and the Age to Come

What will heaven be like? It is not an unusual question. Sometimes it is asked with all the freshness of a child, other times with the anxiety of the old. It is not a question that admits of easy answers, nor a question for which language is sufficient. The cynic says, “Nobody knows.” That attitude falls short of the fullness of human experience. There are stories. There are also things that point…

Tolkien’s Long Defeat and the Path of History

“Actually I am a Christian,” Tolkien wrote of himself, “and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory” (Letters 255). +++ History as a long defeat – I can think of nothing that is more anti-modern than this sentiment expressed by J.R.R. Tolkien. It…

What’s with the Kingdom of God?

Thy Kingdom Come Blessed are You on the throne of the glory of Your Kingdom, seated upon the Cherubim; always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. It was You Who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away You raised us up again, and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven, and had endowed us with Your kingdom…

Shame and the Modern Identity

It is a common definition that the emotion of shame is about “who I am.” It centers in feelings of exposure, unworthiness, and damaged identity. Guilt, they say, is about “what I have done.” There are ways to deal with guilt – but shame, if it is actually a matter of “who I am,” runs deep. It is little wonder that the wounds of shame can be toxic. Self-loathing and related pain…

You Have One Job – Pray – On Behalf of All and for All

The topics of heaven, hell, purgatory, hades, life-after-death, the judgment, etc., are not among my favorites. There is a particular reason for this: everybody thinks they know more about this than they do and most people assume the Church says more about this than it does. Much of the problem, I think, lies in the fact that we torture the faith into geographical shapes, when it belongs in relational dynamics. That is…

Judgment with a Mixed Bag

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn puts his finger on the…

Bookends and the Resurrection

A series of recent conversations with a parishioner turned up the problem of “bookends,” that is, questions of the beginning and the end. It is only natural in our day and age to attack problems in this manner. “How did it start?” is  a way of saying, “What is it?” The end, of course, is not so obvious, other than its connection with our insatiable desire to know how things will turn…

Can the Middle-Class Be Saved?

  Speaking to His disciples, Christ said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 10:25) Doubtless, most modern Christians take comfort from the fact that they are not rich. Over the centuries, the eyes of needles seem to have grown, while camels have gotten thinner. At the time, the disciples were astonished at…