The Way of Shame and the Way of Thanksgiving

The language of “self-emptying” can have a sort of Buddhist ring. It sounds as we are referencing a move towards becoming a vessel without content – the non-self. Given our multicultural world, such a reference is understandable. It is, however, unfortunate and requires that we visit the true nature of Christian self-emptying. Our self-emptying is deeply tied to shame and the Crucified Christ. As a touchstone, I cite the primary passage (Philippians…

Have You Lost Your Soul?

When was the last time you heard someone express concern for their soul? When was the last time you listened earnestly as a friend lamented a psychological or emotional struggle? The reason for the difference is simple: we have become a “soul-less” psychologized society. The classical concern for the soul has been replaced by an overwhelming interest in psychological and emotional “health.” We are becoming  a “well-adjusted” society. The soul has always been…

Dostoevsky and the Sins of the Nation

For many, the idea that we are somehow responsible for the sins of others, or can repent on their behalf is counter-intuitive and deeply troubling. It is distinctly non individualistic. However, it is a cornerstone of Orthodox devotion. Dostoevsky presented a very popular version of this teaching in the words of the fictitious character, the Elder Zosima, in his The Brothers Karamozov. The elder was modeled, many say, on the elders of…

The Sins of a Nation

Can a nation ever sin? If so, how can it be forgiven? The stories and prophetic writings of the Old Testament are replete with examples of national sin. There are certainly stories of God dealing with individuals, but, on the whole, His attention seems to be directed to Israel and other nations as a whole. The promises and pledges are made to a collective people and the chastisement falls on the whole…

The Right Choice

“If you come to a fork in the road – take it.” – Yogi Berra Nothing is more common in our day than making choices. Our culture celebrates the freedom we have in our choices and points to this as a hallmark of its greatness. Contemporary Christianity echoes the same theme and urges us to “choose Jesus.” But strangely, choice is not a fundamental part of Christian virtue – indeed, choice, as…

Should I Forgive the Unrepentant?

It has been noted that forgiveness is often directly tied to repentance. This is doubtless true, but also fraught with misunderstanding. It is important to understand what forgiveness is and is not and what repentance is and is not. The heart is filled with twists and turns – understanding is helpful at every moment. “Without repentance, there can be no forgiveness.” This, or something similar, is a common sentiment. Before we forgive…

Can You Forgive Someone Else’s Enemies?

I have written from time to time about the concept expressed in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, “Forgive everyone for everything.” It is a quote taken from the fictional Elder Zosima, but it is certainly a sentiment well within the bounds of Orthodox thought. I have recently been challenged in several places by people arguing that we cannot forgive those who have not sinned against us – that this right belongs only to the…

Forgiving What We Do Not Know

The first service of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church is “Forgiveness Vespers,” served on the eve of Monday of the First Week. There is nothing unusual about the service itself – other than the “rite of forgiveness” appended to it. In this, the priest and the faithful ask forgiveness of one another. Often this is done with mutual prostrations. Each asks the forgiveness of the other. The rite can take time,…

Saved in Weakness

We are not saved by our talents and gifts nor by our excellence – we are saved by our weakness and our failure. I have made this point in several ways in several articles over the recent past – and the question comes up – but what does that look like? How do I live like that? The question can be somewhat urgent for some because the message is so utterly contrary…

Gifts and Talents and the Road to Hell

At some point in my past, there was a survey used in parishes that was all the rage. It was a “gifts and talents” survey, designed to make everyone in the parish find their true ministry and to work together in fulfillment of St. Paul’s description of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians. The key in these surveys was to determine precisely what gifts and talents someone had, match them with…