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 Erotic Language of Prayer

The very heart of true prayer is desire, love. In the language of the Fathers this desire is called eros. Modern usage has corrupted the meaning of “erotic” to only mean sexual desire – but it is a profound word, without substitute in the language of the Church. I offer a quote from Dr. Timothy Patitsas of Holy Cross in Brookline: By eros we mean the love that makes us forget ourselves…

Christ Is Born! The Angels Sing!

A Serbian Christmas Song – lyrics by St. Nikolai Velimirovich Andjeli Pevaju Noć prekrasna i noć tija, nad pećinom zvezda sija, u pećini mati spi, nad Isusom andjel bdi. Andjeli pevaju, pastiri sviraju, andjeli pevaju mudraci javljaju: Što narodi čekaše, što proroci rekoše, evo sad se u svet javi, u svet javi i objavi: Rodi nam se Hristos Spas za spasenje sviju nas. Aliluja, aliluja, Gospodi pomiluj! (deep voice) no matter what…

The Quiet Centrality of Healthy Shame

“For there is a shame that brings sin; and there is a shame which is glory and grace.” (Sirach 4:21) I have written previously about shame (and will continue) and its importance in our life. Despite the crippling effects of shame in its toxic form, shame also has an important healthy aspect that is necessary for our lives. The toxic form tends to overwhelm us and to dominate the popular understanding. Healthy…

The Liturgies of America

I will be far from the first to observe that football in America has a sort of religious cast. If “liturgy” means a “work of the people,” then football is its clearest manifestation in our culture. When a team wins, there is a deep, abiding sense within its fans that “we won.” The constant use of “we” through public discussions indicates that we experience this sport as something in which we “participate”…

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,…

The Scandal of the Transfiguration

My Archbishop (Alexander Golitzin) shares the story of a young man whom he taught some years ago. He was Orthodox from Estonia. He grew up in the Soviet era and had come to hate all things Russian, including the Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, he saw an Orthodox procession in the streets of his city one year, a procession that included the Russian bishop (whom he also hated and believed to be a KGB…

Entering Hell on Pentecost – With Prayer

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…

Ninety Percent of Orthodoxy Is Just Showing Up

Sometime back, I was asked about “being present.” The question was rooted in the problem of a “wandering mind.” My answer was simple and straight-forward: “You are always present. It comes with having a body.” We speak of the mind “wandering,” and it is a colorful metaphor, but it’s not true. The “mind” hasn’t gone anywhere else, it is simply thinking about something other than where your body is, or, it’s not…

The Mystery, Upborne, Fulfilled

Orthodoxy has a number of “favorite” words – all of which fall outside the bounds of normal speech. Though we commonly use the word “mystery” (for example), popular speech never uses it in the manner of the Church. I cannot remember using the word “fullness,” or even “fulfilled,” in normal speech. More contemporary words have come to replace these expressions. This doesn’t mean that an English speaker has no idea of what…