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…

The Un-Moral Christian

In recent articles I have challenged the place of contemporary morality in the Christian life. Some have had difficulty with this, wondering how we should then think about the commandments that are directed towards our behavior. Others have suggested that my challenge is merely semantic. There are certainly semantic distinctions being made here – but the reason for them is important and goes beyond mere words. But if it is not proper to think…

Going to Hell with the Terrorists and Torturers

In 988, Prince Vladimir of Kiev was Baptized and embraced the Christian faith. Among his first acts as a Christian ruler were to tithe his wealth to the Church and the poor, and to outlaw capital punishment and torture. It is said that the Bishops advising him counseled him that he might need to keep the torture in order to rule effectively. This anecdote has always brought a wry smile to my…

You’re Not Doing Better

“I’m doing better.” Over the years I’m sure I’ve heard this many times in confession. I’ve also heard, “I’m not doing so well.” These are timely updates, personal measures and reports on the state of spiritual lives. And they are wrong. You are not doing better. You are not doing worse. In truth, we don’t know how we’re doing. Only God knows. But we have internalized a cultural narrative and made it…

To Bear Our Sins

From time to time I post an excerpt from other writings – particularly when they seem to resonate with the conversation here on the blog. I saw this recently published on pravmir.com. I’ve corrected the English in a couple of places but otherwise left it as is. It is a small sermon from the late Met. Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh. It reinforces some of the conversation regarding shame that we have had…

Be Still and Know God

There is a point of stillness within us, though we rarely recognize it. We inhabit the world of our thoughts and feelings and rarely find them to be quiet. Almost nothing challenges the “normalcy” of this noisy world – almost everything we encounter is aimed towards it and markets itself with this reality in mind. Not so the gospel. Christ consistently and persistently speaks past the noise in a person’s head. He…

The Moral Disease

Despite what most people think, the modern age is perhaps the most moral of all periods of history. There are competing moralities which creates a sort of moral confusion – but we certainly have no lack of morality. But, as described in this article, morality itself is part of the problem.  Is it possible to be moral without believing in God? I would venture to say that moral is pretty much all…

A Generous Repentance

I have learned over time to expect cultural expressions of the Orthodox faith that are mentioned nowhere in books and articles. Many of these surround major life events and their sacraments: Baptism, Marriage, Funerals. And so I was not surprised when the family of a recently deceased Romanian in my community called me for help giving away his clothes. I was told that it needed to be done before the end of…