When Shame Becomes Toxic

Articles on the topic of shame inevitably provoke questions. This short article is an effort to give a bit more substance by way of an answer to some of those questions. I hope it is helpful. Shame is a normal emotion – one which we could not live without. It signals emotional boundaries (among other things), and alerts us to very important social information. We can experience it just walking into a…

Face to Face

Nothing about the human body is as intimate as the face. We generally think of other aspects of our bodies when we say “intimate,” but it is our face that reveals the most about us. It is the face we seek to watch in order to see what others are thinking, or even who they are. The importance of the face is emphasized repeatedly in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, it…

Boundaries, Borders, and the True God

Years ago, as a young seminarian, I wanted to paint icons. I knew nothing about icons, only that I liked them and that they were holy. The vast wealth of books and materials on their meaning and even on the technique of painting them simply did not exist. My knowledge of painting was also non-existent. But rushing in like a fool, I bought materials (none of which were correct) and stretched a…

Veneration and the Heart

  No doubt, reaching for words where few exist, the Seventh Ecumenical Council made a careful distinction between “worship” (latria) and “honor” (proskynesis or dulia). Latria, it is said, has the character of sacrifice and is due to God alone. English, perhaps among the least precise of all languages, has used the word “worship” for both concepts. Thus, certain positions within the state are addressed as “your worship.” The old English service of…

God and the Box

It is a commonplace that you “cannot put God in a box.” It is an affirmation of the transcendence of God and of the limits of human understanding. It is also a common rhetorical ploy to shut down a theological discussion. But, let’s think a little more about the box. I am deeply averse to statements that begin: “God cannot.” They are often little more than bad theological reasoning. For example, “God…

Into the Heart

Met. Kallistos Ware famously shared the story of his conversion (at least its initiation) as he ducked into a Russian Orthodox Cathedral one afternoon only to encounter the service of Vespers in progress. His account contained no detailed analysis of what he saw. Rather, it was the story of a heart – a heart confronting the Holy in a profound manner. It is the sort of an encounter that can change your…

Why Everything Is Important (but not the stuff you might imagine)

  My Dad was an auto-mechanic, and a good one. He worked in the pre-computerized engine days. The way cars and trucks operated was pretty much the same as the airplane engines he worked on in World War II. I never learned more than a fraction of what he knew, but I learned a few things. This one is very important: “It’s usually not the carburetor.” He would come home from work…

Saving Knowledge and Blessed Ignorance

A friend of mine recently noted that the middle of the road is the “narrowest way,” being but a single line. Increasingly, it has been clear to me that it is a path that requires true self-control and sobriety. When we speak of what we know, we must remember what we do not know. And when we acknowledge our ignorance we must still remain faithful to the knowledge that has been given…

A Particular Scandal

A character in a Peanuts cartoon once declared, “I love mankind! It’s people I can’t stand!” The statement accurately describes our problems with the particular. It is easy to love almost anything in general – it is the particular that brings problems. Nowhere could this be more true than with God. Speaking about God in the abstract is extremely common – after all – He is “everywhere present, filling all things.” He is…

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…