To Tell the Truth

Abba Poemen said, “Teach your mouth to say that which is in your heart. +++ Speaking the truth is as fundamental as the Ten Commandments. It also receives a great deal of attention within the pages of the New Testament. Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the…

The Death of the Moral Man

There is no man who lives and does not sin. – from the Burial Office +++ There are many reactions to the pain of our existence. I try to remember from hour to hour that I live among the “walking wounded.” As the Jewish philosopher Philo said, “Everyone you see is fighting a difficult battle.” One of the great pains for active believers is the struggle to be moral. This struggle becomes…

Telling the Truth

Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, And mightest prevail when Thou art judged” (Romans 3:4). And everyone deceives his neighbor, And does not speak the truth, They have taught their tongue to speak lies; They weary themselves committing iniquity (Jer. 9:5). +++ St. Paul frequently admonishes early Christians to “speak the truth.” It seems…

Learning to Sin

As strange as it sounds – human beings have to “learn to sin.” Not that we need any help doing the things that sinners do – all of that comes quite easily to us. But we have to learn that we are sinners – and this does not come easily to us. Oddly, I first heard this when listening to one of Stanley Hauerwas’ lectures at Duke. “You have to teach someone…

The True Agent of Change

As inhabitants of our modern culture, we find ourselves trapped in a world of “cause and effect.” It is a physical explanation of the universe that has, for all intents and purposes, become a universal metaphor, dominating religion and the most personal aspects of our lives. We see ourselves as the agents of change – or responsible for many of the disasters that litter our lives. Those who “succeed” imagine that they are…

Religion as Neurotic Delusion

From the Journal of Father Alexander Schmemann, Saturday, December 31, 1977 Father Tom gave me a circular Christmas letter from some Trappist in Massachusetts. In his monastery, all traditions meet (West, East, Buddhism), all rites, all experiences. Sounds rather barbarian. It is as if traditions were some sort of clothing. Dress as a Buddhist – and right away an “experience.” This cheap, murky wave of spirituality, this petty syncretism, these exclamations marks –…

Salvation, Ontology, Existential, and Other Large Words

In recent posts I have contrasted morality with ontological, as well as existential, etc. I’ve had comments here and elsewhere in which people stumbled over the terms. The distinction offered is not a private matter. Orthodox theologians for better than a century have struggled to make these points as being utterly necessary to the life of the Orthodox faith. The following is a small article of mine that tries to do some…

The Double Mystery of Christ’s Cross

St. Gregory Palamas, in his Homily on the Precious and Life-Giving Cross (Homily 11), makes reference to what he calls the “double mystery” of the Cross. He cites St. Paul’s statement, “The world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). The first mystery is embodied in our denial of the world – the second mystery in our denial of ourselves. The great saint also sees the Cross as…

Why Morality is Not Christian

I recall my first classes in Moral Theology some 35 or so years ago. The subject is an essential part of Western thought (particularly in the Catholic and Anglican traditions). In many ways the topic was like a journey into Law School. We learned various methods and principles on whose basis moral questions – questions of right and wrong – could be discussed and decided. These classes were also the introduction of…

Mere Existence and the Age to Come

C.S. Lewis, in his marvelous little book, The Great Divorce, uses the imagery of “solidity” versus “ghostliness” to make a distinction between those who have entered paradise, and those who have not. He clearly did not mean to set forth a metaphysical model or to suggest “how things are.” But the imagery is very apt and suggestive when we take a look at what it means for something or someone to exist. The nature…