Hell, Justice and the Heart of Prayer – Thinking Like a Slave

In the third kneeling prayer of Pentecost, there is a boldness in which the Church pleads for the souls in Hell (Hades). It is a boldness that can stun the one who prays, easily wondering, “Are we allowed to ask for these things?” In general, all my life I have heard a rehearsal of the boundaries of hell. I have heard about who goes there, why they must stay there, why it…

The Danger and Shame of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is so terribly hard. On a psychological level, it feels dangerous. The shame engendered by any insult or injury is our experience of vulnerability, and we instinctively react to protect ourselves. That, we must understand, is not a sin, it is an instinct that is a gift from God. The example of Christ, who did not “turn His face from the spitting and the shame,” is also the example of just…

I’ll Be Small for Christmas

Children today are raised with dreams of greatness. Cultural affirmations of our limitless potential, well-intentioned, have not produced a generation of over-achievers, but have indeed brought forth hordes of great dreams. This is nothing new in American culture. We are the world’s longest sustained pep-talk. Ronald Reagan loved to quote the 1945 Johnny Mercer hit: You’ve got to accentuate the positive Eliminate the negative Latch on to the affirmative Don’t mess with…

Saving Knowledge

I have often used the example of riding a bicycle as an image of knowing God. There’s no difficulty learning how to ride if you don’t mind falling off for a while. But no matter how many years you have ridden, you cannot describe for someone else how you know what you know. But you know it. I also suspect that if you thought too much about riding a bicycle while you…

Hiding in Plain Sight and The False Accusation

In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. (Wisdom 3:7 RSV) ____ The story is told of St. Macarius that he was falsely accused of fathering a child by a young woman in the village. After being beaten and humiliated by the people there, he returned to his cell and gathered all of the mats and baskets he had made and gave…

Interceding for Sodom – The Sins of a Nation

This year, some will discuss/argue politics, and many will be lost in their anger. Whatever the outcome, the nation has reached a frightful point in its history. Many will shout and many will curse. But some few will stand before God and intercede for mercy. Will you join me and repent for America? You don’t have to be American. Abraham was not a citizen of Sodom or Gomorrah.  +++ Can a nation…

Reading Scripture in the Kingdom

  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (Joh 3:6) It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (Joh 6:63) Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (1Co 15:50) The convenience…

To Become My Enemy

With the unending political cycle that is America’s public life, there is also an endless identification of enemies. And, of course, this year the enemies seem to come out of central casting – it would be hard to invent characters more susceptible to caricature. The Church has entered something of a political season as well. The upcoming Holy and Great Council has already revealed various fault lines that have long existed within…

The Ladder of Divine Ascent and Moral Improvement

The Fourth Sunday of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, is dedicated to St. John Climacus, the author of the ancient work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is a classic work describing “steps” within the life of the struggling ascetic. There is an icon associated with this work, picturing monastics climbing the rungs of a ladder to heaven, battling demons who are trying to pull them off. However, ladders are dangerous…

Knowing the Knowledge that Transforms

“If only I had known…” These are, not infrequently, the words of an apology. They are also an explanation of why we are sometimes the way we are. Ignorance is, in the mind of the Fathers, a major cause of sin. Of course, if sin is understood in a legal/forensic framework, then ignorance would be nothing more than a form of innocence. Not knowing is excusable in most cases. But the teaching…