The Real Hell – Is There Such a Thing?

Because sometimes the people of God need a basic lesson in the nature of existence… On one of the roads leading into my small city a billboard has recently appeared. It is part of a larger campaign by a nationally known evangelist who is to have a revival in Knoxville. The sign is simple. In very large bright yellow letters (all caps), the sign says: HELL IS REAL. In small letters beneath…

Saving the Atonement

I am speaking this week in Mississippi, in a place where Orthodoxy is thriving, but not a place where you would expect to find it. The parish (a former Presbyterian facility) has a sign with variable letters, where a changing “message” can be displayed. It reads something like, “Father Stephen Freeman speaking Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on Salvation, Heaven and Hell.” Those are indeed the topics, but the sign fits so well…

Baptism and the Final Destruction of Demons

Final is not a word you often hear in Christian teaching. Most Christians leave the final things until, well, the End. But this is not the language of the fathers nor of the Church. A good illustration can be found in the Orthodox service of Holy Baptism. During the blessing of the waters the priest prays: And grant to [this water] the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the…

Falling Between the Cracks

... human nature is created and so, is unavoidably mortal; with death man’s entire psychosomatic being comes to an end. All of his psychological and mental functions cease to function: his self-conscience, reasoning, judgment, memory, imagination, and desire. Man is no longer able to function through the parts of the body in order to speak, to call to memory, to distinguish, to desire, to reason, to be impassioned, and to see”  St.…

Saving Mary

“Most Holy Theotokos, save us!” At these words, heard frequently in an Orthodox service, Protestant visitors often have fear and trembling in their limbs. “How can this not be idolatry?” they wonder. “How can a mere human being save me? They are worshiping Mary!” The language of Mary’s role in the life of salvation is certainly scandalous. But the reaction reveals not the error and idolatry of the Orthodox, but the great…

Wrath!

Wrath! This is the famous opening word of Homer’s Iliad. Many translations in English fail to sufficiently convey the power of the word and its place as the opening utterance in this ancient classic. For non-classicists, citing Homer’s Iliad might mean very little. The cultural knowledge of our modern world with regard to the ancient is abysmal (as is our knowledge of even the past half-century). Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were in…

Head First – Faith

I can recall the scene as though it were moments ago. I was eight-years old, standing on the end of a 10-foot-high diving board. My swim class was standing around, along with my teacher. It was the last day of the summer class and diving off the “high dive,” was the last event of the day. Everyone was watching. I had a long conversation with the teacher (she was coaxing me into…

Your Weakness Saves You

It is counter-intuitive that God saves man through His own weakness. The irony of the Divine Reversal has provided endless material for the hymnographers of the Church through the centuries: the Strong becomes weak; the Sinless takes on our sin; the Rich becomes poor; God becomes man – the whole of the gospel seems to be a Divine irony. This irony has a beauty that has always drawn me. Sometimes the imagery…

Is Hell Real?

Because sometimes the people of God need a basic lesson in the nature of existence… On one of the roads leading into my small city a billboard has recently appeared. It is part of a larger campaign by a nationally known evangelist who is to have a revival in Knoxville. The sign is simple. In very large bright yellow letters (all caps), the sign says: HELL IS REAL. In small letters beneath…

Prayers and the One God of All

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! So runs a common exclamation in Orthodox services of prayer. And so begins another offense for those who wonder why the Orthodox “don’t pray directly to God”…or “why do you pray to the saints”…or, worst of all, how do we dare to say, “Most Holy Theotokos (Birth-giver of God), save us!” For…