The Pilgrimage of Holy Week

The apex of the year for Orthodox Christians is easily Holy Week and Pascha. I had the opportunity in 2008 to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. To receive communion in the tomb of Christ, or to stand at Golgotha is no little thing. And yet, the services of Holy Week within one’s own parish are a greater thing. I say this not only from my own experience but on the testimony…

The Ladder of Divine Ascent and Moral Improvement

The Fourth Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, is dedicated to St. John Climacus, the author of the ancient work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is a classic work describing “steps” within the life of the struggling ascetic. There is an icon associated with this work, picturing monastics climbing the rungs of a ladder to heaven, battling demons who are trying to pull them off. However, ladders are dangerous…

Justice, Forgiveness and Bearing a Little Shame

This morning I read a headline in the newspaper: “We will get justice.” In the relentless cycle of the daily news, the report was of the discovery of a young woman who had been murdered. It seemed a completely appropriate response by the law officer in charge of the investigation. His words doubtless echoed the sentiments of everyone who knew the young woman. The desire for justice is primal, and among the…

Why We Forgive

There are many ways to think about forgiveness, not all of them true or helpful. It is easily the most emotionally and psychologically difficult aspect of the Christian life revealing both the power of trauma as well as the tenacity of lingering memories. The directness of Christ’s commandments (“forgive your enemies”) and the consequences of ignoring them (“if you do not forgive others neither will your heavenly Father forgive you”) can easily…

Self-Emptying Prayer

We are told that Christ “emptied Himself” in His death on the Cross (Philippians 2:5-11). Further, we are told that this self-emptying is to be the “mind” that we ourselves have. It is possible to grasp that such self-emptying can be practiced in our dealings with others when we place them above ourselves – when the “other” is our greater concern. But how is this possible in prayer? How do we empty…

The Change We Should Believe In

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2Co 3:18) Among the many losses within modern Christianity has been the place of transformation. Nineteenth-century revival movements and theology emphasized a single experience that was associated with salvation. Those who concerned themselves with what came later,…

When Words Fail – The End of Morality

I can think of two experiences where words fail: before the presence of God and in the presence of deep shame. The first is too great and too wondrous for words, the second too bitter and painful. Both are essential for our humanity if it is to be lived to the fullest. They represent not only the boundary of our vocabulary, but also the boundary of our existence. I have stood by…

Unity, the One Cup and the Fire of God

Ecumenism is back in the news and with it comes a deluge of misunderstanding and theological confusion. For while “unity” and the very concept of “one” are actually inherently mystical, most who write about and discuss the topic substitute a merely human, political and administrative notion. Two key verses are frequently drawn from the 17th chapter of St. John’s gospel:  Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in…

The One Thing Progress Cannot Do

It is common among Orthodox teachers to identify prayer with the “one thing necessary” that Christ speaks of in John 11. This emphasizes prayer as communion with God – for communion with God is the very source of our life. I will expand this meaning of the “one thing necessary” to include the very “mind” required for its practice. And, as we shall see, it is strikingly at odds with the habits…

Is the Universe Tragic?

Tragedy is among the older forms of story-telling. The ancient Greeks can be said to have perfected it, and theorized about it with great care. One need only read the plays of Aeschylus or Sophocles to come away with a deep appreciation of the very nature of tragedy. I will not offer anything like the sophisticated analysis of Aristotle. However, I will make a single observation that seems apt in thinking about…