What St. Seraphim Meant

“Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” This is perhaps the most famous quote of the great Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov. Many of his icons have this saying on them. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it. On the other hand, I think there are many who do not understand it. And understanding what he meant can take you to the very heart…

Icons and the Scriptures

I have had many thoughts this week about problems within the modern academic study of Scripture. An inherent problem is that scholars of Scripture lack both imagination and experience. I do not mean to impugn the intelligence of any particular academic – indeed, I have known many interpreters of Scripture whose work was almost pure imagination. What I am alluding to is a limit of imagination to see the many layers, the…

Windows to Heaven Are Not One Way

I am participating in an icon workshop this week. Lectures, slides, and the slow process of learning how icons are painted, by painting one yourself under the guidance of an accomplished master. My experience is that you very quickly see that here you can only be pupil (at least at this stage of my life).  A small but interesting point worth sharing this evening, is in the process of writing or painting…

Music and Scenes from the “Desert”

One of the better known monasteries in Russian history is the Valaam monastery. Taken over by government authorities during the time of the Communists and used for other purposes, it has been returned today to the Church and is growing into a full-functioning, thriving monastery, one of the “deserts” where spiritual warfare on behalf of the world is unceasing. The music is a development of the “Valaam Chant” that has its own…

With Humble and Contrite Hearts

Perhaps among the greatest of Psalms is David’s 50/51: Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou…

The Desert – Struggling in a Flat Land

One of the best-known sayings to have come from the Desert Fathers is: “Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” To a large degree the saying extols the virtue of stability. Moving from place to place never removes the problem – it only postpones the inevitable. Somewhere, sometime we have to face the heart of our struggle and by the grace of God overcome. Of course, not everyone…

Icons in a One-Storey Universe

I’ll ask my readers to forgive me as I look at yet another aspect of the Christian life when the idea of a two-storey universe is jettisoned and we come to realize that we are living in a one-storey world: that God is with us. Readership has remained very high over the past week or so, so I will take that to mean that many people are interested in this approach and the…

Christian Atheism

The title for this post sounds like an oxymoron, and, of course, it is. How can one be both an atheist and a Christian? Again, I am wanting to push the understanding of the one-versus-two-storey universe. In the history of religious thought, one of the closest versions to what I am describing as a “two-storey” world-view, is that espoused by classical Deism (the philosophy espoused by a number of the American founding…

The Meaning of Language – Part 3

Having pointed out that much of popular Christian language (and some images in sacred texts) lend themselves to the notion of a “two-storey” universe – and having noted that the second storey as the dwelling place of all things spiritual has almost insurmountable problems – how should we speak about such things? First, it seems that it’s worth thinking about what the words we use really mean in the first place. Perhaps…

The Dormition of the Mother of God

In giving birth you preserved your virginity, In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos. You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, And by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death. Troparion of the Feast – Tone 1 It is easy to be put off by Orthodox devotion to the Mother of God when coming at Orthodoxy from a Protestant background. Both because of a fear…