The Nativity Fast – Why We Fast

November 15, marks the beginning of the Nativity Fast (40 days before Christmas). The following article offers some thoughts on the purpose of fasting. +++ Fasting is not very alive or well in the Christian world. Much of that world has long lost any living connection with the historical memory of Christian fasting. Without the guidance of Tradition, many modern Christians either do not fast, or constantly seek to re-invent the practice,…

Reading Rightly

The course of your reading should be parallel to the aim of your way of life…. Most books that contain instructions in doctrine are not useful for purification. The reading of many diverse books brings distraction of mind down on you. Know, then, that not every book that teaches about religion is useful for the purification of the consciousness and the concentration of the thoughts. St. Isaac of Syria quoted in The Spiritual…

Knowing the Beautiful God

We prove God’s existence by worshiping him and not by advancing so-called proofs. We have here the liturgical and iconographic argument for the existence of God. We arrive at a solid belief in the existence of God through a leap over what seems true, over the Pascalian certitude. According to an ancient monastic saying, “Give your blood and receive the Spirit.” Paul Evdokimov in The Art of the Icon: A Theology of…

Mind and Heart

I write frequently about what I term the Religion of the Heart. Archimandrite Meletios Webber has a short piece on what can be called the Religion of the Mind. The distinction between mind and heart is not a distinction between thought and feeling. Rather it is a distinction between the mind (seat of thoughts and feelings) and the heart (the seat of a deeper awareness – sometimes called the nous in Orthodox…

Crossing the Bar

I served a Church in the course of ministry in which a large group of my members were educated (in a way few are today), thoughtful and of an age similar to that of my parents or a few years older. They belonged to that “greatest generation,” veterans the Second World War or deeply enmeshed in the economic and military structures that swept an entire culture into a new way of being.…

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 Benefits of Ignorance

I have had conversations in recent comments sections on the role of reason in the Orthodox life. I readily acknowledge that no one lives without some use of reason – but I contend that most of what forms the content of our life in Christ is not reason. The faith does have to contend with attacks and challenges from many arenas – and yet its success will not be established by the…

Truth

In the Gospel record of Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, we are told that Christ said He had come to bear witness to the Truth. Pilate, in what he must have thought was a clever response, says, “And what is Truth?” We know from elsewhere in the Gospel that Christ explained, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” It is a statement that is easily tossed about – to settle…

The Unnecessary God

Many years ago I knew a pastor who said he did not believe in angels. I was surprised by his statement and asked him why. His response was interesting: “I do not believe in angels because I cannot think of anything that they do that the Holy Spirit could not do instead.” I thought his reasoning was confused at the time and still do. Essentially, he did not believe in angels because…

The Unknowable God

You cannot know God – but you have to know Him to know that. – Fr. Thomas Hopko +++ Fr. Hopko’s small aphorism is among my favorites in contemporary Orthodoxy. Besides the fact that it sounds humorous – it states one of the most profound paradoxes within the Orthodox faith. This fundamental truth is stated in a variety of ways: we say that God cannot be known in His Divine Essence while…