Fasting for Christmas

Last Wednesday, November 15, the Orthodox Church began its “Winter Lent,” the fast that prepares for the feast of the Nativity. Somewhat similar to Advent, it is the older practice, a full 40 day fast, that reminds us that Christmas, joy that it is, is a foretaste of Pascha. The Cave of Bethlehem reminds us of the Cave of Hades (icons of the Descent into Hell picture the Cave of Hades). The…

A Washington Family Weekend

I am in Washington, D.C., this weekend to attend the wedding of a niece, and share the joy of a family whose youngest generation is now doing things like getting married. Like many American families, we are scattered across the churchly plain. My parents and I are Orthodox. I have a brother whose family is Episcopalian (including the niece getting married). I have another brother who is Catholic. Sometimes our discussions are…

A Prayer at Bedtime

From the Orthodox Prayers Before Sleep Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered! Let those who hate Him flee from before His face! As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish. As wax melts before the fire, so let sinners perish before the face of those who love God and sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross and say joyfully: rejoice, most precious and life-creating Cross of the Lord, which…

A Mighty Battle

We are faced with a mighty battle but an especial, holy battle, not like the fratricidal wars that crowd the history of our world ever since Cain killed his brother Abel. Our common and only real enemy is our mortality. We must grapple painfully with the death that pervades all things, first and foremost ourselves. The Lord’s gospel belongs to another, higher, celestial plane, where everything is ‘not after man, and not…

America is a Franchise Operation – Further Thoughts on a Particular God

When my family and I moved from Durham, NC to Oak Ridge, TN in 1989, I had all of the expectations of a child: new surroundings, new friends, a new community in which to work. It was inherently interesting to me. Arriving as we did, at the beginning of December, among our first tasks as a family was the annual Christmas shopping (we had three small children at the time). One of…

The Journey to a Particular God

Some years ago I found myself traveling down I-75 with my van loaded with wife and children. Our destination was some hours away in Georgia. The purpose of the trip was to travel to a place where someone was reportedly having visions (and messages) from the Virgin Mary. At about 100 miles down the road the question formed in my mind, “If God is everywhere, then why am I driving 250 miles…

Do You Unite Yourself to Christ?

In the Orthodox service of Holy Baptism, the candidate (or sponsor) is asked, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” The question is put three times, and later is asked again in the past tense, “Have you united yourself to Christ?” It is clear from the dialog and the prayers themselves of the Baptism service that this question goes to the heart of the Church’s understanding of Baptism. Indeed, Baptism is only the beginning.…

Prayer Behind the Ambo

This prayer from St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy comes at the end of the service. It is a fitting summation of the Church’s prayer before God. Blessing those that bless thee, O Lord, and sanctifying those that trust in thee, save thy people and bless thine inheritance, preserve the fullness of thy Church, sanctify those that love the beauty of thy house. Glorify them in return by thy divine power, and forsake us…

The Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina

I have loved this prayer for years and found it essential in beginning the day. Key phrases have a way of coming back throughout the events of each day. It is worth committing to heart. O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will. At every hour of this day, direct and…