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…

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…

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…

The Space Between

Is there a God “out there”? God is “everywhere present and filling all things,” we say in our Orthodox prayers, but is He “out there?” For what it’s worth, I want to suggest for a moment that He is not. Largely, what I am describing is what takes place in our imagination – that is, what we picture when we pray and how we think of God as we seek Him. There…

The Management of the Soul

For who knows the things of a man except the spirit of that man, which is in him? So also no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb: One. But the lightbulb really has to want to change. I like lightbulb jokes. Occasionally, as in the example above, they contain wisdom as well as humor. There was once…

What Is Beneath the Universe?

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. John 1:1-3 +++ Throw a blanket over a chair. In all likelihood, you would recognize immediately that there is a chair beneath the contours of the fabric. The blanket is not the…