The Gospel of Progress – and the New Jerusalem

American fans of Monty Python will be familiar with the opening lines of William Blake’s poem, “Jerusalem” (and I apologize to my British readers for such an introduction). The poem was set to music in 1916 and became deeply popular in post-war Britain. The Labour Party adopted it as a theme for the election of 1946. It recalls the legend of Christ’s visit to England as a child (taken there by St.…

It’s a Lying Shame

The story of the first sin begins not with a choice, but with a lie. As much as we tend to emphasize “free-will” as the origin and dominant factor of human sin, we do well to remember the true nature of our lives. Things are much more complicated than freedom can account for. Rather, we act in the context of lies and deception, some from outside and some from within. It is…

The Ascetic Imperative – A Matter of Communion

Among the more interesting experiences in my life was the two years spent in a Christian commune. It was not West Coast fancy, much less connected to anything historic such as the Bruderhof. It started with two very zealous Jesus freaks (myself and a friend), an apartment, and something of a necessity thrust on us by accident. The accident was a housefire where two other young Christian friends were living. The fire…

The Whole Adam

Mt. Athos, in popular treatments, is often described as a “male enclave,” a place where no woman has set foot in a thousand years (this is not actually true). The exclusion of women from the Holy Mountain is deeply offensive to some (cf. European Union) and is imagined as a bastion of machismo in a cassock. It is therefore strange to discover, when you visit the Holy Mountain, that the central figure…

The Communion of Tradition

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life–the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us–that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also…

Saving My Neighbor – Just How Connected Are We?

  If you are in the “helping professions,” confronting problems in people’s lives, it doesn’t take long to realize that no one is purely and simply an individual. The problems we suffer may occasionally appear to be “of our own making,” but that is the exception rather than the rule. Whether we are thinking of economic or genetic inheritance, or the psychological and social environment, almost all the issues in our lives…

Finding God Amidst the Noise

If I say one hundred prayers a day in the silence of Katounakia and you say three prayers amidst the tumult of the city and your professional and family obligations, then we are equal.   St. Ephraim of Katounakia I ran across this small quote recently and was struck by its insight and typical Orthodox generosity. The kindness of the saints is among their most encouraging aspects. It also echoes a theme that…

Healing the Soul and Unbelief

I have long been convinced that “believing” is grounded in something other than intellectual activity. I am simply unimpressed by most of the intellectual arguments that I see regarding both belief and unbelief. In both, I hear so much that is unspoken, and even much that is likely hidden from the speakers themselves. That being the case (if I am right), then conversations about belief require great patience and not a little…

What Exactly Is Changing?

The Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his magisterial work on St. Gregory of Nyssa, offers this observation: The journey towards salvation is marked by a successive elimination of all that we “have,” in order to reach what we “are.” The safest path and surest refuge is not to be deluded and fail to recognize ourselves – who we truly are. We should not believe that we are seeing our Selves…

The Truth of the Soul

“Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving, forever?” In the classic film, The Third Man, Harry Lime, a racketeer in post-World War II Vienna, quizzes his old friend, Holly Martins, about the value of an individual life. They are standing in the carriage of a Ferris wheel, looking down on the city scape. From Lime’s perspective, the distance provides a detachment that makes morality obsolete. “Have…