The Doors and God

You cannot attend an Orthodox service and not be aware of doors. There are the doors that form the center of the icon screen, opening directly upon the altar. There are the two doors that flank them, one on either side, known as the “Deacon Doors.” Someone always seems to be coming out of one and going into another. One visitor to my parish confessed that the service reminded her of a…

Abraham at the End of the World

This is an exercise in the Orthodox reading of the Scriptures. My thoughts frequently return to this story and this line of thought. This article is greatly expanded from an earlier version. The habits of modern Christians run towards history: it is a lens through which we see the world. We see a world of cause and effect, and, because the past is older than the present, we look to the past to…

Fasting from the Sentiments of the Feast

I have a favorite Joni Mitchell song. In her very mournful style she sings about the season before Christmas: It’s comin’ on Christmas, They’re cuttin’ down trees, They’re puttin’ up reindeer and singin’ songs of joy and peace. Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on…I would teach my feet to fly! It is a melancholy tune, echoing the bittersweet experience of the culture Christmas. We love it.…

What Happens When We Play (Pray)

In my previous article I compared children’s use of play to the place of ritual words and actions in the life of the Church. I absolutely did not mean to imply that one thing is like the other. I mean to say clearly that they are very much the same thing. And I say this both to change how we understand play as well as how we understand ritual words and action.…

Playing with God

There are things that children understand instinctively. And the things that children know and understand are worth consideration. They have much to teach us. Among the most natural things children do is play. Depending on how you define play, it is among the first activities in which we engage. It comes to dominate the lives of children and is the hallmark of their existence. Play is what children do. It is quite…

The Sweet Smoke of Prayer

Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.  Psalm 141 My parish has a fairly steady stream of visitors from outside the Orthodox experience. Among their first questions are ones concerning the use of incense. There is virtually no Orthodox service that does not include the burning of incense, with the priest or deacon making the circuit of the Church swinging…

Leaving Mary Out

Decades ago, when I was in seminary (Anglican), a professor told me that he did not believe in angels. I was surprised and asked him why. He responded that he “did not think they were necessary…that anything angels did could be done by the Holy Spirit…” While this is obviously true, I noted that angels are found throughout Scripture, and that “necessary” was not a theological category – and that he himself…

The Struggle To Be Real

Very few modern Christians who read English are unfamiliar with the writings of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Lewis’ expositions of Christian thought as well as his popular fiction (The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, etc.) have become modern classics. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has become something of an industry unto itself and has spawned an entire genre of literature. Many…

The American Apocalypse

America was founded by religious people – their imagination became a nation. Among their most powerful ideas was an apocalyptic hunger: they believed God was doing something new in the world and that they were its harbingers. One visionary described his colony as “a city set on a hill.” It’s a heady thing to invent a nation. Nothing is more “modern” than the belief in “something new” coming. Progress is the unceasing…

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…