His Appearing in the Liturgy

Standing in the Church, listening to the choir or chanter sing while priest censes the icons, words swirl with the rising smoke and connections and associations multiply as words evoke images and images evoke thoughts: participation, coinherence, incarnation, mystery, timeless form and formless time, fullness and emptiness, fulfillment and… And then the thought comes, full-formed or teasing, but it arrives. Not as a result of logic or reason, not as the end…

The Difficulties of Paradise

The voices of the choir rise in wonderful harmonies, the light reflects on the icons, incense wafts into the ceiling – it is a wonderful liturgy on a feast day. We stand in the Church and begin to notice, with some guilt, that our mind has wandered. Worse, still, we are bored. This is perhaps the most common experience in the Orthodox liturgy. Not often discussed outside of confession, it is a…

Do Faith to Have Faith

There is an adage, “Do faith until you have faith.” It is often attributed to John Wesley, who said something like it. I’ve generally ignored such slogans – bumper-sticker Christianity troubles me. But there is something worth considering beneath this nostrum. St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom 12:2). But how is the mind renewed? There is a very…

The Priesthood That Never Was

A recent question concerning the “priesthood of all believers” has been an occasion for personal reflection. What is it about the priesthood of all believers that seems so important for Protestant thought? The idea is rooted in Scripture: You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ….But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,…

Get Out of Your Mind!

I am not certain at what point modern Christians began to believe that “spiritual” and “mental” were the same thing. I know that it is a commonplace to interpret John 4:24 (“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth”) to mean that outward actions and locations are of no value – only those things that take place in the mind are truly spiritual. The older English…

A Crisis of Beauty

There is a crisis of beauty within my culture. That is a very kind way to say that much of the world around me, at least the civilizational part, is ugly. It is not an ugliness born of poverty (though poverty is very ugly around here) – unless we understand that there is a poverty within the human spirit that begets ugliness. My thoughts on my environment are not just my opinion.…

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…

The End of “Religion”

Comments on the previous post’s negative use of the word “religion,” seem to suggest the need to say more. The use of “religion” as a name for something negative associated with belief in God is not new with me, nor within Orthodoxy. It has been a significant part of the most serious levels of discussion for the better part of the 20th century. Another word would have done just as well, perhaps,…

Empty Ritual

For the first two decades of my life I thought that “empty” always had to be said in front of the word “ritual.” It speaks volumes about a certain understanding of the world in which we live and the nature of its relationship to God. Time and experience have given me a radically different take on ritual – both what it really is – and the place it holds in our world.…

The Word within the Word – The Sacrament of Time

Perhaps the most beautiful passage in all of Scripture is the prologue of St. John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men… In classical theology…