Obedience and the Modern World

In the modern project, human beings are autonomous centers of consciousness whose choices and decisions bring about their self-actualization. Few things make a modern person more uncomfortable than the topic of obedience. Many Orthodox read statements declaring that “obedience is the foremost rule for monastics,” and immediately thank God they are not monastics. Our minds easily race to horror stories of cult-like obedience and spiritual abuse. Some may very well have experienced…

A Modern Conversion

A few years back I had a very enlightening conversation with one of my Russian parishioners. I had Baptized her and her family some years before.  In the conversation I referred to her and her family as “converts.” She bristled and quickly spoke, “I am not a convert!” My thoughts were running ahead. I did not say what I was thinking but was mindful of the fact that I had catechized and…

The Modern Project

When I was doing a graduate degree in theology, it was not uncommon to hear discussion of the “project of modernity.” It was an academic catch-phrase to describe the social/philosophical/political/religious efforts to construct the modern world. The Enlightenment  (17th-18th centuries) brought new ways of thinking into the mainstream of Western culture (and now the world). It newly imagined the meaning and construction of the State; it pondered and reinvented Christianity; most importantly,…

The Difficulties of Paradise

The voices of the choir rise in wonderful harmonies, the light reflects on the icons, incense wafts into the ceiling – it is a wonderful liturgy on a feast day. We stand in the Church and begin to notice, with some guilt, that our mind has wandered. Worse, still, we are bored. This is perhaps the most common experience in the Orthodox liturgy. Not often discussed outside of confession, it is a…

Do Faith to Have Faith

There is an adage, “Do faith until you have faith.” It is often attributed to John Wesley, who said something like it. I’ve generally ignored such slogans – bumper-sticker Christianity troubles me. But there is something worth considering beneath this nostrum. St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom 12:2). But how is the mind renewed? There is a very…

The Borders of Our Lives

Years ago, as a young seminarian, I wanted to paint icons. I knew nothing about icons, only that I liked them and that they were holy. The vast wealth of books and materials on their meaning and even on the technique of painting them simply did not exist. My knowledge of painting was also non-existent. But rushing in like a fool, I bought materials (none of which were correct) and stretched a…

There Is No Such Thing As Secular

Just so that we can be clear: there is no such thing as a secular world. By that, I mean that there is no such thing as the world apart from God, a world without God, or a world existing in a “neutral zone.” The good God who created the heavens and the earth, sustains them in their very existence. He has not made Himself absent, nor so endowed the world that…

A Secular Orthodoxy

Within Orthodox Christianity, the faith is generally “encultured.” It does not exist apart from the culture, but within – transforming, shaping and making the faith of Christ incarnate in the world. Christianity first expressed this model in the context of first-century Judaism. The disciples in Jerusalem met together on Solomon’s Porch. Small asides in St. Paul’s writings and in the book of Acts, show that despite dropping the requirement for circumcision, early…

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…

Patiently Waiting

Christ said, “In patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). Orthodoxy presumes patience on our parts. The services take patience – they last a good length of time and without patience your mind will never stop wandering. Catechumenates can take a while. Learning many of the things of an Orthodox way of life cannot be rushed. Only time can make a difference. These are hard words in a culture where time is money…