Abraham at the End of the World

This is an exercise in the Orthodox reading of the Scriptures. My thoughts frequently return to this story and this line of thought. This article is greatly expanded from an earlier version. The habits of modern Christians run towards history: it is a lens through which we see the world. We see a world of cause and effect, and, because the past is older than the present, we look to the past to…

The Problem of Goodness

Though many struggle with the so-called “Problem of Evil,” the greater moral problem is that of goodness. How do we account for goodness in the world – particularly self-sacrificing heroic goodness? It is not uncommon for a person in a dangerous situation to place their own life at risk in order to save the life of another. It is by no means universal (some act first to save themselves or are paralyzed…

Theophany and the Gates of Hades

For an Orthodox priest, the services of the Church involve many “comings and goings.” Part of any service takes place within the altar area, which is usually enclosed by an iconostasis, a wall on which icons are hung. The wall does not truly separate one area of the Church from another so much as it marks one area off from another – the space of the Church is itself an icon. But…

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…

More on the Will of God

The priest, Seraphim, spent 30 years of his life in the Soviet Gulag. During that period he was tortured from time to time and was assigned the duty of cleaning out the contents of the latrines. Other prisoners avoided him because of the stench that hung about him at all times. He was a living saint and saved the souls of many around him. His story, in brief, is told in the…

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 Earth Stood Still

Orthodox Christians commemorate the death (Dormition) of the Virgin Mary during the month of August (New Calendar, the 15th, Old Calendar, the 28th). For those for whom such feasts are foreign, it is easy to misunderstand what the Orthodox are about – and to assume that this is simply a feast to Mary because we like that sort of thing. Flippant attitudes fail to perceive the depths of the mystery of our…