Into the Maw of Chaos

Here in Appalachia, there are many thousands of people whose lives move in and out of chaos. Less than a paycheck away from a cascade of debt-borne disasters, personal behaviors add even greater danger. There’s no room for messing up. As a priest in the area, the stories come through the doors of the Church looking for assistance. Frequently, there’s a need to explain. Someone pulls a wad of receipts and medical…

The Final Destruction of Demons – Holy Baptism

“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…

And God said: יְהִי אוֹר

I apologize for the Hebrew, but you’ll understand in a minute. And God said, “Let there be light” (“yehi’or”). There is an old mystical Jewish notion that when God created things, He did so by speaking them into existence, such that there was an exact correspondence between the word spoken and the thing created. On that basis, it was believed that a person speaking the same word (in Hebrew, of course) could…

The Communion of Friends

You meet someone and like them. You slowly get to know them. Conversation and sharing, listening and learning, a picture or a reality begin to emerge. You think about them when they’re away. You’re aware that you matter to them as well. The thought of anything hurting them is painful. This is friendship. We easily reduce friendship to a set of shared emotions. Why we like someone else, we can imagine, rests on…

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…

On the World as Sacrament

I learned my first psalms in public school. As I recall, they were Psalm 23 and Psalm 100. No one looked funny at the teacher when she introduced the topic and no one objected. First, we didn’t know we were allowed to object, and, second, none of us would have known any reason for not doing such a thing. We were a diverse class of children: with both Baptists and Methodists. We…

The Struggle Against The Normal Life

  Within the Christianity of our time, the great spiritual conflict, unknown to almost all, is between a naturalistic/secular world of modernity and the sacramental world of classical Christianity. The first presumes that a literal take on the world is the most accurate. It tends to assume a closed system of cause and effect, ultimately explainable through science and manageable through technology. Modern Christians, quite innocently, accept this account of the world…

The Distraction Delusion – Get Your Hands Dirty

I recently bought a pickup truck, a twenty-five year-old clunker that runs ok. I paid $600 for it and have been slowly tending to the little fixes that it requires. It’s old enough to lack the computerization that puts vehicles beyond the reach of a shade-tree mechanic. My father and his father were both auto mechanics. I had forgotten how much satisfaction I get from doing what they did. When I was…

Ninety Percent of Orthodoxy Is Just Showing Up

Sometime back, I was asked about “being present.” The question was rooted in the problem of a “wandering mind.” My answer was simple and straight-forward: “You are always present. It comes with having a body.” We speak of the mind “wandering,” and it is a colorful metaphor, but it’s not true. The “mind” hasn’t gone anywhere else, it is simply thinking about something other than where your body is, or, it’s not…

The Mystery, Upborne, Fulfilled

Orthodoxy has a number of “favorite” words – all of which fall outside the bounds of normal speech. Though we commonly use the word “mystery” (for example), popular speech never uses it in the manner of the Church. I cannot remember using the word “fullness,” or even “fulfilled,” in normal speech. More contemporary words have come to replace these expressions. This doesn’t mean that an English speaker has no idea of what…