The Singular Goodness of God

It has long seemed to me that it is one thing to believe that God exists and quite another to believe that He is good. Indeed, to believe that God exists simply begs the question. That question is: Who is God, and what can be said of Him? Is He good? This goes to the heart of the proclamation of the Christian faith. We believe that God has revealed Himself definitively in…

The Mystery of “Mystery”

Few words can be more misleading to the modern ear than the Orthodox use of the word “mystery.” It’s a fine New Testament word and is (technically) the proper name for the sacraments in Orthodoxy (though we most often say ‘sacrament’ in English). Its root meaning is that of something “hidden.” In our culture’s language, mystery is more a matter of a who-done-it or a reference to something so puzzling or beyond…

The Despair of Modernity – It Might Not Be All Bad

It is a commonplace in the Fathers to describe despair or sadness as the result of failing to get what we want. It sounds quite simple, but it cuts to the very heart of our sadness. There is a melancholy of our age that is born from the expectations of modernity. The mantra of progress and our belief that no matter the problems confronting us, there is always a solution, are an…

When Chaos Ruled the World – Part I

In the ancient civilizations of the Near East there were strange stories about the place of chaos in the beginning of all things – and the chaos is specifically located in water. It seems odd to me that people who largely lived in arid countries should imagine the world beginning as a watery chaos – but that is certainly what they did. The Egyptians imagined the world’s beginning as a watery chaos…

Making Known the Mystery

Recent conversations on the blog have revolved around the word “mystery” and the notion of a “literal” or “plain” meaning of the Scriptures. This reprint might be of interest. The trouble with reading Scripture is that almost everybody thinks they can do it. This idea is rooted in the assumptions of Protestant thought: only if the meaning of Scripture is fairly obvious and more or less objective can it serve as a…

Literalism and Another Word

There are many who speak about literalism and see it where it does not exist. The trees of modern theories and habits hide the forest of ancient understanding and use of texts. It is necessary to back away from details and look at a larger context to see what we are actually seeing. In cultural terms, it is possible to say that no one was a “literalist” until the modern period. In…

The Seat of Mercy and the End of the Legal View

Among the more problematic words in the New Testament is the Greek hilasterion. It is translated as “propitiation” in some of the older English Bibles, and “expiation,” in newer ones. It’s actual meaning is neither. The word literally means “the place of mercy,” and is the Greek word used in the Old Testament (LXX) to describe the “Mercy Seat” on the Ark of the Covenant. In Leviticus, the ritual for atonement is…

Blood Brothers of the Incarnation

My childhood in the 1950’s had the innocence of the time, fed by stories of our elders and the clumsy movies. We played soldiers (everyone’s father had been in the Second World War) and “Cowboys and Indians.” Despite the clear bias of the movies and the slanted propaganda that passed for history, almost everyone wanted to be an Indian. Cowboys never seemed terribly romantic, while the Indians clearly knew how to survive…

Secularized Sin

I have had numerous responses across social media about yesterday’s article on sin. It’s title, “Sin Is Not a Legal Problem,” drew some strong reactions. A particular concern is worth thinking about carefully. There is, as many have pointed out, plenty of juridical language in both the Scriptures and in the liturgical tradition of the Church. Quite specifically, someone noted that 1John 3:4 has this: “Sin is lawlessness.” One translation that I…

Sin Is Not A Legal Problem – Athanasius and the Atonement

I often struggle when people speak of their “sins.” Indeed, it is not unusual to be asked, “Is ___ a sin?” The question always makes me feel like a lawyer. Imagine that, instead of a doctor, you have a lawyer whom you consult for your medical problems. You are having trouble breathing. You’re short of breath and occasionally you cough up blood. You go to your doctor (lawyer) and he examines you.…