The Sweet Smoke of Prayer

Let my prayer arise in Your sight as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.  Psalm 141 My parish has a fairly steady stream of visitors from outside the Orthodox experience. Among their first questions are ones concerning the use of incense. There is virtually no Orthodox service that does not include the burning of incense, with the priest or deacon making the circuit of the Church swinging…

History and the Gospel

I remember a grumpy student once saying: “I hate history! It’s just one darned thing after another!” And so it is. For although we study history, we think of it as a simple collection of events, a way of telling the story of the world. Like a well-written newspaper account, we expect history to state the facts as accurately as possible and leave for the reader the task of interpretation. Is it…

God’s Bread

Our contemporary life is often deeply removed from reality. We eat like royalty, travel like magicians, taking everything for granted. In 1991, I was serving in a parish (Anglican) that sponsored a Russian family for immigration. The Soviet Union had fallen, but little had changed in their homeland. I recall taking them to their first visit to an American grocery store with their translator. It was like a dream to them. Their…

Mere Morality

What makes an action moral? I use the word to describe something done in an effort to conform to a rule, a law, or a principle. It is a matter of the will and a matter of effort. All societies require some form of moral behavior. If there were no such behavior, life would be unpredictable, unstable, and quite dangerous. Governments encourage some form of morality (it is the sole purpose of…

The Struggle To Be Real

Very few modern Christians who read English are unfamiliar with the writings of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Lewis’ expositions of Christian thought as well as his popular fiction (The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, etc.) have become modern classics. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has become something of an industry unto itself and has spawned an entire genre of literature. Many…

Orthodoxy Versus Christian Materialism

Over the years I find myself coming back to a number of ideas within the modern world that differ markedly from Orthodox thought. These are ideas that are imbedded so deep within our culture that they seem self-evident to most people. Many Orthodox believers hold to one or more of them, distorting their understanding of the faith. This article is an effort to create a list and address each one. If it…

The Marriage of Love and Hate

The genius of Dostoevsky lies in the profound theological insight of his tumbled novels. They can be difficult reads for many people – particularly in our modern setting. He has “too many characters” and they “talk a lot.” His characters are complex: I was a scoundrel, and yet, I loved God…  Good and evil are in a monstrous coexistence within man.  So says Dmitri Karamazov. And this statement describes all of Dostoevsky’s…

The American Apocalypse

America was founded by religious people – their imagination became a nation. Among their most powerful ideas was an apocalyptic hunger: they believed God was doing something new in the world and that they were its harbingers. One visionary described his colony as “a city set on a hill.” It’s a heady thing to invent a nation. Nothing is more “modern” than the belief in “something new” coming. Progress is the unceasing…

Naked And Unashamed

The deepest and most primitive emotion of the human being is that of shame. It is the feeling that something is wrong with us. This should be distinguished from the feeling that we have done something wrong (that is called guilt). Shame is the feeling that we are something wrong. It is the first emotion ascribed to Adam and Eve as they hide in their shame. Shame makes us want to hide…

Grace and the Psychology of God

We are human beings. We think, we feel. I like to think that my dog thinks and feels. The semi-imaginary conversations we have as we take our long, daily walks are entertaining for me, even though I have to supply his side of the dialog. God is not a dog. But we supply His dialog as well and we impute to Him thoughts and feelings like our own. God is angry. God…