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…

A Bunch of Stuff We Don’t Know

Reading discussions about life after death, it is easy to get the impression that people actually know what they’re talking about, that perhaps they have been there, seen what goes on and therefore authoritatively opine on the nature of things. But, the truth is that we mostly don’t know. We have a few things given to us in Scripture, and even those few things are often somewhat cryptic or uncertain. I will…

Prayers for the Dead

The Orthodox pray for the departed. The most pressing prayer within the liturgies appointed for this purpose is for God to forgive their sins. We say, “For no one lives and does not sin, for You only are without sin….” This is easily misunderstood, but it goes to the very heart of the mystery of our relationship with God. The same sentiment, interestingly, is offered in the prayers for the living. The…

Living the Apocalypse

The world ended last Sunday (Pascha). No. You weren’t “left behind.” But you might not have noticed. And our not noticing is, strangely, at the very heart of our problem. It is also at the heart of the Christian faith. What I am describing is the “apocalyptic” character of Christianity – the fact that it is a revealing of something hidden. And this is not a “one-time” revelation. It is the moment-by-moment…

Knowing the Knowledge that Transforms

“If only I had known…” These are, not infrequently, the words of an apology. They are also an explanation of why we are sometimes the way we are. Ignorance is, in the mind of the Fathers, a major cause of sin. Of course, if sin is understood in a legal/forensic framework, then ignorance would be nothing more than a form of innocence. Not knowing is excusable in most cases. But the teaching…

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…

The Purpose of Mystery, Paradox and Contradiction

Orthodox Christianity is deeply associated with the word “mystery.”  Its theological hymns are replete with paradox, repeatedly affirming two things to be true that are seemingly contradictory. Most of these things are associated with what is called “apophatic” theology, or a theology that is “unspeakable.” This same theological approach is sometimes called the Via Negativa. This is easily misunderstood in common conversation. An Orthodox discussion takes place and reaches an impasse. Inevitably,…

The Dangerous Vision of Paradise

A utopian vision gave birth to America. The “pilgrims” who came to New England in the 17th century, imagined an ideal state, defined by their radical “purification” of society and the Christian Church. Their dreams of a new world were constantly thwarted in England by the reluctance of the greater body of Protestants to embrace their extreme vision. England’s Reformation fell far short of their imaginings. In 1640, the English cousins of…

A Law for All Seasons

From the screenplay of A Man for all Seasons William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law! Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that! Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you,…

Overcoming the Tyranny of History

History is tyranny. A seemingly inescapable part of human life is its history (and the baggage it brings with it). So much that shapes our identity: language, culture, economics, health, personality (and the list goes on), are largely products of history. As such, all of these things are outside of our control, not a part of our choosing. I am white, Anglo-American, lower middle class, with high blood pressure and attention deficit…