The Senselessness of Suffering and Death

I recently posted a note on social media in which I said that Christ’s death and resurrection changed the “senseless” character of death. Therefore, Christians need no longer fear it. I got a bit of push-back. What is senseless about suffering and death? There are two aspects of suffering and death that are particularly felt to be senseless. The first is suffering that seems to have no purpose: the death of a…

Hell, Justice and the Heart of Prayer – Thinking Like a Slave

In the third kneeling prayer of Pentecost, there is a boldness in which the Church pleads for the souls in Hell (Hades). It is a boldness that can stun the one who prays, easily wondering, “Are we allowed to ask for these things?” In general, all my life I have heard a rehearsal of the boundaries of hell. I have heard about who goes there, why they must stay there, why it…

Entering Hell on Pentecost – With Prayer

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 Soul Is a Mirror

There are meditations and insights that simply change your life. I recall walking across the campus at Duke some 30 or so years ago. I had been plowing through a book of Orthodox theology (very thick reading). I would read a page and think, and read it again. But I recall very plainly a moment of insight – it regarded some paragraphs surrounding a statement of St. Basil’s. The “coin dropped” as…

Look Who’s Talking

  Everyone is familiar with that “voice in the head.” By this, I mean the negative voice. It is mean, judgmental, angry, jealous, envious, salacious, just bad. Sometimes it goes quiet. Sometimes it is so overwhelming that it drowns everything else out. One simple question we can ask: “Who’s doing the talking?” This voice is not the product of reasoning. We have not weighed, measured, compared and reached a conclusion that “he…

Knocking Down the Gates of Hell

The Swedish Lutheran theologian, Gustav Aulen, publish a seminal work on types of atonement theory in 1930 (Christus Victor). Though time and critique have suggested many subtler treatments of the question, no one has really improved on his insight. Especially valuable was 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 Church, focused on…

The God Who Fights For Us

I was small for my age as a child, and quite thin at that. I liked to play, but was not particularly rugged and did not enjoy sports that involved getting knocked around. I grew up with another “Steve” next door to me, who was big for his age. Inevitably, I was nicknamed “Little Steve,” and he, “Big Steve.” I confess to being glad when he moved away, at least for my…

Getting Your Mind Right

In the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke (1967), the lead character struggles in a Deep South prison chain-gang setting. Very cool towards authority, he is finally, at the Warden’s direction, beaten by the guards. There is a memorable bit of dialog: Luke (lying in a grave he’s been forced to dig): Oh God! Oh God! I pray to God you don’t hit me anymore. I’ll do anything you say, but I can’t…

You Are Not Your Sin – Part 2…the Chains that Bind

Imagine that you have been shackled with chains on your ankles. The chains are heavy, make a lot of noise, and make it impossible for you to run. You cannot successfully climb over anything or dance. The chains are heavy enough that you quickly become exhausted and are limited in the things you can do and for how long you can do them. Imagine that not only are you shackled, but so…

You Are Not Your Sin

  Shame is powerful. Having begun writing on the topic, it is important to say more. The Tradition, particularly in the texts that discuss the spiritual life, contains many references to shame. In recent times, it has become a topic within the field of psychology and in the community surrounding recovery from drugs and alcohol. Strangely, it has been largely neglected in spiritual writing, even among the Orthodox. I am not surprised…