A Christian Ending to Our Life

Most moderate-sized American cities are dominated by two structures: bank buildings and hospitals. The former are often large and new because it’s where we like to put our money. The latter are large because we’re afraid to die and don’t want to be sick. Both are particularly modern structures. You could travel to ancient Pompei, were it to be completely reconstructed. You would find neither bank nor hospital. Of the two, hospitals…

Entering the Mystery of Christmas

Orthodox Christianity is deeply associated with the word “mystery.”  Its theological hymns are replete with paradox, repeatedly affirming two things to be true that are seemingly contradictory. Most of these things are associated with what is called “apophatic” theology, or a theology that is “unspeakable.” This same theological approach is sometimes called the Via Negativa. This is easily misunderstood in common conversation. An Orthodox discussion takes place and reaches an impasse. Inevitably,…

Getting Our Heads Back Together

I recall being urged by my mother to eat the vegetables on my plate. I had my favorites, though not many, and have somehow managed to survive to this point in my life. There is a very practical side to eating. Despite the fact that it can give great pleasure, it has a direct connection to our health. Remembering this as an adult is not always easy. Strangely, religious belief seems to…

The Communion of Friends

You meet someone and like them. You slowly get to know them. Conversation and sharing, listening and learning, a picture or a reality begin to emerge. You think about them when they’re away. You’re aware that you matter to them as well. The thought of anything hurting them is painful. This is friendship. We easily reduce friendship to a set of shared emotions. Why we like someone else, we can imagine, rests on…

Venerating Icons – It’s So Much Other Than You Think

In 1991, I sat in a room at Duke University with Geoffrey Wainwright, Stanely Hauerwas, and Susan O’Keefe. The purpose was the defense of my thesis, “The Icon as Theology.” I was an Episcopal priest, who was turning his doctoral work in Systematic Theology into an M.A. and heading back to parish life (a long story, that). The defense was friendly, thorough, with few surprises. The one major surprise, of course, came…

The Morality of Christmas

You might be thinking that it’s too early to hear about Christmas – Thanksgiving is yet a couple of weeks away. However, for the Orthodox, the Nativity Fast began on November 15. It is already time to give our thoughts to Christmas – our Winter Pascha. This article (a reprint) reflects on a theme that has been present in my thoughts for several years. I pray it will be of use as…

A Patient Joy – Finding the True Self

Among the weakest things in the world of social relations is the truth. That might seem to be an odd statement. However, the weakness of the truth is the limitations placed upon it by its very nature. It cannot say just anything, nor can it ever pretend to be something that it is not. Those restrictions are not shared by lies. It is the nature of a lie that it can assume…

Slowing Down for the Necessary Thing

I make a weekly visit to a nursing home about an hour away. I have a dear parishioner who has been in that place, or similar places, for about eight years. Our conversations center around the past week, her life and mine, with occasional forays into deeper matters. One of the difficulties of life in a nursing home is the sameness: one day differs little from another, making time seem to stand…

Form and Conformity – How Tradition Saves Us

When C.S. Lewis tried to describe the nature of reality as undergirded with order and discernible principles (The Abolition of Man), he looked for a term that would be more easily palpable to a secularized audience that was already becoming highly resistant to Christian terminology. He chose the Chinese term, the Tao, as a disarming approach to the question. Modernity is, strangely, far more receptive to the “wisdom” of non-Western cultures, while…

The Despised God

  In his On the Orthodox Faith, St. John of Damascus declares: “The Son is the image of the Father, and the Spirit the image of the Son.” Such statements are easily read and passed over as among the more obvious Trinitarian statements. I add to this statement another from St. Irenaeus: “That which is invisible of the Son is the Father, and that which is visible of the Father is the…