The Marriage of Love and Hate

The genius of Dostoevsky lies in the profound theological insight of his tumbled novels. They can be difficult reads for many people – particularly in our modern setting. He has “too many characters” and they “talk a lot.” His characters are complex: I was a scoundrel, and yet, I loved God…  Good and evil are in a monstrous coexistence within man.  So says Dmitri Karamazov. And this statement describes all of Dostoevsky’s…

The American Apocalypse

America was founded by religious people – their imagination became a nation. Among their most powerful ideas was an apocalyptic hunger: they believed God was doing something new in the world and that they were its harbingers. One visionary described his colony as “a city set on a hill.” It’s a heady thing to invent a nation. Nothing is more “modern” than the belief in “something new” coming. Progress is the unceasing…

Naked And Unashamed

The deepest and most primitive emotion of the human being is that of shame. It is the feeling that something is wrong with us. This should be distinguished from the feeling that we have done something wrong (that is called guilt). Shame is the feeling that we are something wrong. It is the first emotion ascribed to Adam and Eve as they hide in their shame. Shame makes us want to hide…

Grace and the Psychology of God

We are human beings. We think, we feel. I like to think that my dog thinks and feels. The semi-imaginary conversations we have as we take our long, daily walks are entertaining for me, even though I have to supply his side of the dialog. God is not a dog. But we supply His dialog as well and we impute to Him thoughts and feelings like our own. God is angry. God…

If We Confess Our Sins

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jo 1:9) Confession is treated as one of the sacraments (mysteries) of the faith. In most cases it is done with a priest, within the confines of the canonical discipline of the Church. But what makes a good confession? I have written here recently that sin is not a “legal” problem.…

Obedience and the Modern World

In the modern project, human beings are autonomous centers of consciousness whose choices and decisions bring about their self-actualization. Few things make a modern person more uncomfortable than the topic of obedience. Many Orthodox read statements declaring that “obedience is the foremost rule for monastics,” and immediately thank God they are not monastics. Our minds easily race to horror stories of cult-like obedience and spiritual abuse. Some may very well have experienced…

A Modern Conversion

A few years back I had a very enlightening conversation with one of my Russian parishioners. I had Baptized her and her family some years before.  In the conversation I referred to her and her family as “converts.” She bristled and quickly spoke, “I am not a convert!” My thoughts were running ahead. I did not say what I was thinking but was mindful of the fact that I had catechized and…

Baptism and the Final Destruction of Demons

Final is not a word you often hear in Christian teaching. Most Christians leave the final things until, well, the End. But this is not the language of the fathers nor of the Church. A good illustration can be found in the Orthodox service of Holy Baptism. During the blessing of the waters the priest prays: And grant to [this water] the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the…

Keeping Christmas

It is not unusual to give thought to how we keep a fast. Will it be in a strict manner? How will my fasting be possible when I’m at work or at school? How will I teach my children to fast?  When we ignore the fast, we feel guilty and the need to confess. It is strange, however, that we do not give similar thought and time to what it means to…

That We All May Be One

The times I have written on the boundaries and borders of Church are occasions for a great deal of comment. Generally the comments run in two directions: Orthodox who agree that “we are the Church,” and defend my thoughts, and others who are challenged, or offended by the suggestion that “one,” might not include them. This is all too easy – especially for my Orthodox readers. Many settle for their own comfortable…