If We Confess Our Sins

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jo 1:9) Confession is treated as one of the sacraments (mysteries) of the faith. In most cases it is done with a priest, within the confines of the canonical discipline of the Church. But what makes a good confession? I have written here recently that sin is not a “legal” problem.…

A Modern Lent

Few things are as difficult in the modern world as fasting. It is not simply the action of changing our eating habits that we find problematic – it’s the whole concept of fasting and what it truly entails. It comes from another world. We understand dieting – changing how we eat in order to improve how we look or how we feel. But changing how we eat in order to know God…

Singing and Dancing through Great Lent

I grew up in a rural American Protestant culture. In many ways there was a level of piety that was beneficial. God’s name, particularly the name of Christ, was held in great reverence.  Stores closed on Sundays – and if many people used the afternoon for recreation – most used the morning to attend Church. The knowledge of Scripture, though somewhat superficial, was still widespread. The first psalms I memorized were in…

Forgiveness – Do We Know What We’re Doing?

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,…

With Envy and Justice for All

We use many words and concepts in our daily lives without bothering to consider their true content. In my experience, few words are less examined than “justice.” It is a word that is foundational in the modern world with deep roots in religious tradition. Most people would agree that the desire for justice is virtually innate in human beings. However, it has a dark side of which very few seem to be…

The Demons of our Time

In 1872, Dostoevsky published his novel, The Demons [Бесы]. It demonstrated in a microcosm, the insanity that lay within the revolutionary movements of 19th century Russia. That insanity broke upon the world in 1917 and has remained present with us, in one form or another, ever since. The madness that he describes takes place in a small town, away from the great capitals of Russia. It involves a relatively small cast of…

Face to Face

Nothing about the human body is as intimate as the face. We generally think of other aspects of our bodies when we say “intimate,” but it is our face that reveals the most about us. It is the face we seek to watch in order to see what others are thinking, or even who they are. The importance of the face is emphasized repeatedly in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, it…

Outside of Paradise

And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden…     Joni Mitchell (1969) The instinct of the folk-music singer celebrating the Woodstock Festival was not wrong. The religious sensibilities of younger generations today would likely say the same thing but with no reference to the Scriptures. The longing that marks the human heart finds many means of expression. I often think as I see the tattooed bodies of the young (and even…

Dwelling in a Strange Land

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in their midst. They that carried us away in captivity asked of us a song, And they that laid us waste, required of us mirth, saying: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Psalm 136/7 provides the text that…

Shame and Envy – Our Secret Sins

Several years back I stumbled on a book about the sin of envy. I was struck by what I read and realized that I had never heard a sermon on the topic (nor preached one). Though a number of the Fathers cite envy as the first and greatest sin, it never seemed to come up as a spiritual topic. I also realized that it was almost never mentioned in confession. A strange…