Christ is Born! The Angels Sing!

A Serbian Christmas Song – lyrics by St. Nikolai Velimirovich Andjeli Pevaju Noć prekrasna i noć tija, nad pećinom zvezda sija, u pećini mati spi, nad Isusom andjel bdi. Andjeli pevaju, pastiri sviraju, andjeli pevaju mudraci javljaju: Što narodi čekaše, što proroci rekoše, evo sad se u svet javi, u svet javi i objavi: Rodi nam se Hristos Spas za spasenje sviju nas. Aliluja, aliluja, Gospodi pomiluj! (deep voice) no matter what…

Put the Dickens Back in Christmas

In the late 1600’s in colonial Boston, the celebration of Christmas was against the law. Indeed, anyone evidencing the “spirit of Christmas” could be fined five shillings. In the early 1800’s, Christmas was better known as a season for rioting in the streets and civil unrest. However, in the mid-1800’s some interesting things changed the cultural response to the feast and, in 1870, Christmas was declared a federal holiday (which is to…

I’ll Be Small for Christmas

Children today are raised with dreams of greatness. Cultural affirmations of our limitless potential, well-intentioned, have not produced a generation of over-achievers, but have indeed brought forth hordes of great dreams. This is nothing new in American culture. We are the world’s longest sustained pep-talk. Ronald Reagan loved to quote the 1945 Johnny Mercer hit: You’ve got to accentuate the positive Eliminate the negative Latch on to the affirmative Don’t mess with…

Making Known the Mystery

Recent conversations on the blog have revolved around the word “mystery” and the notion of a “literal” or “plain” meaning of the Scriptures. This reprint might be of interest. The trouble with reading Scripture is that almost everybody thinks they can do it. This idea is rooted in the assumptions of Protestant thought: only if the meaning of Scripture is fairly obvious and more or less objective can it serve as a…

The Translation of the Faith

There is an Italian proverb: Traduttore, traditore. It means, “translator, traitor.” It is the observation that no matter how hard one might try, the translation of one language into another is never more than approximate: there can be no “literal” translation. Every language is, within itself, a universe of relationships between words. There are shades of meaning and associations that simply cannot be moved into another language. When we study a new…

Entering the Mystery of Christmas

Orthodox Christianity is deeply associated with the word “mystery.”  Its theological hymns are replete with paradox, repeatedly affirming two things to be true that are seemingly contradictory. Most of these things are associated with what is called “apophatic” theology, or a theology that is “unspeakable.” This same theological approach is sometimes called the Via Negativa. This is easily misunderstood in common conversation. An Orthodox discussion takes place and reaches an impasse. Inevitably,…

The Morality of Christmas

Morality is tricky business in what is an extremely moral society. I pray my readers to be patient with me as I explain what I think is the problem. First, I will note that morality is all that is left when the most fundamental grounds of a culture have been destroyed. We indeed live in just such a time, hence the rise of a vehemence in the moral life. Second, I will…

God’s Un-American View of the Poor and Why It Matters

America has an odd view of the poor. It is a view that reveals much about the underlying theological assumptions that create and support our culture. I will quickly quell any protests about the mixing of theology and politics by saying, everything, even politics is rooted in theology. More about that later on… In general terms, when Americans encounter the poor, our first thoughts go to the individual and his/her story. What…

A Secular Kingdom…Where Christmas Never Comes

  Two people are working at a soup kitchen, feeding the poor. One of them is a Christian, the other an atheist. The Christian is doing what he does out of obedience to Christ, in order to serve Christ “in the least of these my brethren.” The atheist is doing what he does because he thinks that generosity is a good thing and that the world would be a better place if…

A Difficult Orthodoxy

The difference between “right glory” and “right doctrine,” noted in my previous article, goes much deeper than services of worship. It is true that the Church has, throughout her history, taken great care with liturgical practice so that what is done gives expression to what is believed. The two should be seamless. This, however, becomes ever more difficult when it extends to our lives. Frequently, we settle for “right doctrine,” and “right…