Face to Face – Without Shame or Fear

We are apparently living in the age of the face, and I don’t think it’s necessarily bad.  I know all the complaints about our culture of “selfies,” and there are certainly many things in that to make us wonder, but our fascination with our faces long predates the technology of our phones. In the usage of the early Church, the word for face (prosopon) is also the word for person. It is…

Beyond Narcissism – To Behold the Face of God

Perhaps the most difficult personalities encountered in anyone’s life are those that can clinically be labeled “narcissistic.” It refers to a very describable disorder that can be diagnosed but treated only with difficulty. The narcissist is critically handicapped when it comes to recognizing and respecting boundaries. They want to run your life (and will). Everything in the world revolves around them simply because their own boundaries are so non-existent. Being in relationship…

The Meekness of God

“Brood of vipers!” with those words John the Baptist is often introduced in the movies and the minds of believers as a loud, nearly violent prophet of the desert. That Charlton Heston played him in one of those movies was almost type-casting, at least with regard to the popular imagination. And yet, St. John is an example of meekness. When confronted by the religious leaders of Israel he has little to say…

The Goal of a Lesser Life

From my earliest childhood, I always heard the future spoken of in superlatives: the best, the best possible, etc. There was an unspoken assumption that each human being was uniquely suited to something and that if they found that unique thing and worked at it, they could become the best at something. Some of my early successes revolved around the piano. With a bit of work, I was able to excel beyond…

Pentecost Is Not the Church’s Birthday

It is a commonplace in some circles to celebrate Pentecost as the Church’s “Birthday.” It is well-intentioned, perhaps even true in some sense, but tends to render the Church as something it is not. St. Paul calls the Church the “pillar and ground of truth.” The sort of institutional concept that would mark some date in 33 AD as a founding date (like the founding of Rome or Coca-Cola), would make St.…

The Erotic Language of Prayer

The very heart of true prayer is desire, love. In the language of the Fathers this desire is called eros. Modern usage has corrupted the meaning of “erotic” to only mean sexual desire – but it is a profound word, without substitute in the language of the Church. I offer a quote from Dr. Timothy Patitsas of Holy Cross in Brookline: By eros we mean the love that makes us forget ourselves…

Obstacles to Faith in the Modern World

My writing and thoughts often carry me to the “edges” – to the edge of unbelief and to the edge of the depths of belief. My instinct for these places is an instinct for the obstacles to faith. Why do some believe and others not? And what is the exact nature of belief and unbelief? There is a form of belief familiar to everyone. It is simply the manner in which we…

The Mystery of Holy Week and Pascha

This past weekend, Orthodox Churches began the observation of Holy Week. The services are long and plentiful. In my parish, from Lazarus Saturday to Pascha, there will be somewhere on the order of 40 hours of services. It is a large parish effort. Most of the services have the participation of the full choir. Last night, I had the anxious face of a young server in the altar who politely wanted to…

Mystery as Reality

C.S. Lewis once discussed the question of how angels (and such things) could pass through a wall. His response was intriguing: he suggested that they could do so not because they were less substantial, but because they were more substantial. Just as a rock is more substantial than water or air, so, he posited, an angel (or such) is more substantial than our materiality. Of course, this is completely arguable and unprovable. But…

The Mystery of “Mystery”

Few words can be more misleading to the modern ear than the Orthodox use of the word “mystery.” It’s a fine New Testament word and is (technically) the proper name for the sacraments in Orthodoxy (though we most often say ‘sacrament’ in English). Its root meaning is that of something “hidden.” In our culture’s language, mystery is more a matter of a who-done-it or a reference to something so puzzling or beyond…