The Perpetual Catechumen

It should not surprise us to learn that we are often creatures of the culture in which we live. We understand this, particularly when we travel and encounter people whose culture differs profoundly from our own. What seems obvious to us, might seem obscure to them. What we eat, how we shop, what counts as polite, what is rude, all of these are shaped by culture. In truth, this is just the…

The Sacrifice of Worship

When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22), there was no questioning on Abraham’s part about what was intended. He understood precisely what was involved in such a thing. There was wood to be gathered, an altar of stones to be constructed, the victim to be bound, and then the slitting of its throat with the gushing forth of blood, all consummated in the burning fires of the now-completed…

Robed in the Glorious Garment of Salvation

“My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of gladness; as a bridegroom He has set a crown on me; and as a bride adorns herself with jewels, so my God has adorned me.” With these words from Isaiah, the priest begins the ritual of dressing prior to the Liturgy. With each item of his priestly…

Pentecost and the Liturgy of Hades

Pascha (Easter) comes with a great note of joy in the Christian world. Christ is risen from the dead and our hearts rejoice. That joy begins to wane as the days pass. Our lives settle back down to the mundane tasks at hand. After 40 days, the Church marks the Feast of the Ascension, often attended by only a handful of the faithful (Rome has more-or-less moved the Ascension to a Sunday…

Shame in the Public Arena

In 401 AD, twenty-nine Saxon “slaves,” strangled each other to death with their bare hands in their prison cells. They chose this death rather than being forced to fight one another in Rome’s arena. Better death than shame. Their “owner,” the Senator Symmachus (famously known as the “Last Pagan”), wrote of them that they were a rebellious “band of slaves, worse than any Spartacus.” In the pages of the New Testament we…

Knocking Down the Gates of Hell

The Swedish Lutheran theologian, Gustav Aulen, published a seminal work on the types of atonement theory in 1930 (Christus Victor). Though time and critical studies have suggested many subtler treatments of the question, no one has really improved on his insight. Especially valuable was his description of the “Classic View” of the atonement. This imagery, very dominant in the writings of the early Fathers and in the liturgical life of the Eastern…

The Ladder of Your Daily Life

Perhaps the most prominent ladder in our culture is the one associated with careers. It is an image of the American road to success. We begin at or near the bottom and, step by step, make our way towards the top. It is a metaphor that works well with our modern notions of hard work, persistence and reward. It also serves as a justification for many of the structures in our society…

Can Shame Ever Be Healthy?

When I first began to research the topic of shame, I was surprised to find so little mention or use of the word in the Fathers. There are a few significant examples in which shame features largely, such as Book 4 in The Ladder. Nevertheless, the word seems somewhat scarce if you think about the profound nature of this experience and its place in the spiritual life. What became clear to me…

Following a Conversation with a Tree

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but…

Naked and Ashamed: Dealing with It

The Scriptures record that Adam was ashamed and hid. It’s a primal response. Shame is experienced as a burning sense of exposure and vulnerability. It begs to be clothed upon and hidden. It is possible to say that human beings have been playing “dress-up” ever since. This can be understood in a literal manner as we wrap ourselves in fashion statements or tattoo identities on our skin. It can also be seen…