Beneath the Letter of the World

For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. (1 Cor. 9:9-10) In this odd little passage in St. Paul’s writings, we…

When Miracles Ceased

One of the stranger ideas that accompanied the Reformation, was the notion that miracles had ended at the time of the New Testament’s completion. Never stated as a doctrinal fact in the mainstream of Protestantism, it remained a quiet assumption, particularly when joined with an anti-Roman Catholicism in which the various visions, weeping statues, and saints lives were considered to be fabrications of a corrupt priesthood. Stories abounded during the Reformation about…

Rest for Your Soul

If…then… Among the most alluring ideas in our lives are the notions of cause and effect, performance and award. Nothing seems more soothing than the simple promise that doing one thing leads to the reward of the other. It is predictable, subject to control, clearly delineates the rules of reward and punishment and makes obvious who deserves what. Nothing could be neater. The limit to this idea comes when we encounter living,…

A Modern Lent

Few things are as difficult in the modern world as fasting. It is not simply the action of changing our eating habits that we find problematic – it’s the whole concept of fasting and what it truly entails. It comes from another world. We understand dieting – changing how we eat in order to improve how we look or how we feel. But changing how we eat in order to know God…

A Progressive Marriage

How is your marriage progressing? This simple question is a way of focusing our attention on right-thinking about progress and the Christian life. I posed the question to myself – I have been married now for 47 years. My first thought was, “What would ‘progress’ in a marriage mean?” Do I love my wife more, or any less? What would more love look like? The truth of marriage is that progress is…

The Final Destruction of Demons – Holy Baptism

“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…

Providence – God in Extension

There are aspects of the Orthodox faith that require that we reach beyond what we think we know and dig more deeply into the writings of the Fathers. This is particularly the case when Orthodoxy uses similar language to Western theological models. We see a word (in this case, “providence,”) and think we know what it means, supplying that meaning from our inherited Western theological/cultural vocabulary. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to…

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.…

The Mystery of Place

    Feeling “out of place” is a strong feature of our modern existence. Comments on my recent post bear this out. The notion and experience of place, though, have a mystery at their very heart. A major aspect of the mystery is that we can never know or experience anything in general – only in particular. We can speak of “human nature,” but it does not exist as a thing-in-itself. Human…

A Cultural Feast

I read somewhere that, prior to the Protestant Reformation, there were over 50 feast days in England on which people did no labor (these were in addition to Sundays). If you do the math, it adds up to over seven weeks of vacation per year. The Reformation abolished all but one or two. I have often thought that this was one of the sources of Protestant economic success – abolish seven weeks…