Abraham at the End of the World

This is an exercise in the Orthodox reading of the Scriptures. My thoughts frequently return to this story and this line of thought. This article is greatly expanded from an earlier version. The habits of modern Christians run towards history: it is a lens through which we see the world. We see a world of cause and effect, and, because the past is older than the present, we look to the past to…

Saved in Weakness

We are not saved by our talents and gifts nor by our excellence – we are saved by our weakness and our failure. I have made this point in several ways in several articles over the recent past – and the question comes up – but what does that look like? How do I live like that? The question can be somewhat urgent for some because the message is so utterly contrary…

Gifts and Talents and the Road to Hell

At some point in my past, there was a survey used in parishes that was all the rage. It was a “gifts and talents” survey, designed to make everyone in the parish find their true ministry and to work together in fulfillment of St. Paul’s description of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians. The key in these surveys was to determine precisely what gifts and talents someone had, match them with…

Behind Every Rock and Tree – An Allegory

How is an allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures possible? In the fourth chapter of Galatians, St. Paul invokes the story of Abraham and his two sons, one born of a bondwoman (Hagar) and the other of a freewoman (Sarah).  As he prepares to draw a lesson from the story he says of it: “These things are an allegory.” He then proceeds to draw a very authoritative (for him) conclusion based on this…

St. Mary of Egypt and Moral Progress

The suggestion has been made several times recently that my criticism of moral progress is not supported by the example of the saints. Surely, it is said, the transformations we read about in the lives of the saints are clear examples of moral progress. A noted such example, perhaps the greatest story of repentance and asceticism known in the Church, is that of St. Mary of Egypt. It is worth looking carefully at her…

The Problem of Goodness

Though many struggle with the so-called “Problem of Evil,” the greater moral problem is that of goodness. How do we account for goodness in the world – particularly self-sacrificing heroic goodness? It is not uncommon for a person in a dangerous situation to place their own life at risk in order to save the life of another. It is by no means universal (some act first to save themselves or are paralyzed…

Theophany and the Gates of Hades

For an Orthodox priest, the services of the Church involve many “comings and goings.” Part of any service takes place within the altar area, which is usually enclosed by an iconostasis, a wall on which icons are hung. The wall does not truly separate one area of the Church from another so much as it marks one area off from another – the space of the Church is itself an icon. But…

Living with a Calendar

The human relationship with time is a strange thing. The upright stones of neo-lithic human communities stand as silent reminders of our long interest in seasons and the movement of the heavens. Today our light-polluted skies shield many of us from the brilliant display of the night sky and rob us of the stars. The modern world is not only shielded from the stars, but from many aspects of time itself. Artificial…

The Last Christmas – Ever

This Christmas was the last Christmas – ever. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Wherever He is, there is the beginning and the end of all things. If Christ was truly present in this year’s Christmas, then it was the last Christmas – and the first Christmas. And if statements like this make your hair hurt – then read on. Our common way of thinking about the…

Making Sense of a Jumbled World

Listening to the Nativity collection of readings for the Vespers of Christmas Eve (there were eight of them), my mind drifted to the “jumbled mess” that is the Old Testament. We speak of it as if it were a single thing, when, it is many things (over 40), and some of those things are jumbled concatenations of other jumbled things. I can only imagine what someone coming to the Old Testament for…