The Sacrament of the Soul

Fr. Alexander Schmemann famously said that sacraments do not make things into something else so much as they reveal things to be what they are. We hear this in St. Basil’s Liturgy when we ask God to “show” the bread and wine to be the Body and Blood of Christ. The Baptismal liturgy does the same, asking God to “show this water…to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the…

Mary: The Blessing of All Generations

In my childhood, it was not unusual to hear someone ask, “Who are your people?” It was a semi-polite, Southernism designed to elicit essential information about a person’s social background. The assumption was that you, at best, could only be an example of your “people.” It ignored the common individualism of the wider culture, preferring the more family or clan-centered existence of an older time. It was possible to be “good people”…

Shame and the Modern Identity

It is a common definition that the emotion of shame is about “who I am.” It centers in feelings of exposure, unworthiness, and damaged identity. Guilt, they say, is about “what I have done.” There are ways to deal with guilt – but shame, if it is actually a matter of “who I am,” runs deep. It is little wonder that the wounds of shame can be toxic. Self-loathing and related pain…

You Have One Job – Pray – On Behalf of All and for All

The topics of heaven, hell, purgatory, hades, life-after-death, the judgment, etc., are not among my favorites. There is a particular reason for this: everybody thinks they know more about this than they do and most people assume the Church says more about this than it does. Much of the problem, I think, lies in the fact that we torture the faith into geographical shapes, when it belongs in relational dynamics. That is…

Entering Hell on Pentecost – With Prayer

Pascha (Easter) comes with a great note of joy in the Christian world. Christ is risen from the dead and our hearts rejoice. That joy begins to wane as the days pass. Our lives settle back down to the mundane tasks at hand. After 40 days, the Church marks the Feast of the Ascension, often attended by only a handful of the faithful (Rome has more-or-less moved the Ascension to a Sunday…

The Ontological Model Part 2: How Good Is Your Will?

Suppose I give you a bicycle for the convenience of travel. Suppose, however, that the bicycle is broken: flat tires, missing spokes, a chain that slips frequently. Nevertheless, you figure out a way to make it go. The ride is bumpy and you often have to stop and fix the chain. You fear that one day the wheels will just come apart as the spokes yield to the weight. Nevertheless, in fits…

Being Saved – The Ontological Approach

I cannot begin to count the number of times I wished there were a simple, felicitous word for “ontological.” I dislike writing theology with words that have to be explained – that is, words whose meanings are not immediately obvious. But, alas, I have found no substitute and will, therefore, beg my reader’s indulgence for dragging such a word into our conversations. From the earliest times in the Church, but especially beginning…

The Soul Is A Mirror

The soul is a difficult thing to speak (or write) about. First, the word is used so commonly and widely that its true meaning becomes obscured. Second, the soul is largely unknown to each of us, despite its primary importance. So, I will begin by giving its simple meaning: the soul is our life. When we hear the story of Adam’s creation we learn that he is fashioned out of the earth.…

Let’s Get Out Of This Place

The Saturday before Palm Sunday is known as Lazarus Saturday among the Orthodox, and they celebrate Christ raising him from the dead just prior to His entrance into Jerusalem (gospel of John). It is a feast that offers something of a preview of Christ’s resurrection, and a foretaste of the General Resurrection at the End of the Age. Some years back I sat in a cave that is purported to be the grave of…

Facing Up to God

  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor. 3:18 Among the most striking of all images in St. Paul’s writing is his description of beholding the glory of God with an unveiled face. It’s a very difficult passage to translate. The word rendered “beholding” in the translation quoted above is actually…