Honoring the Dead

And Other Weird Orthodox Stuff For Protestant inquirers, Orthodoxy is more beautiful, glorious, wilder, and weirder than they would imagine.  They hear ancient prayers chanted in dark churches illuminated by candles while smelling the scent of incense drifting in the air.  If they attend the Orthodox services on special feast days, they will see other surprising rituals: the priest and congregation processing around the church building with the symbolic funeral shroud of…

Jesus Christ the Grave Robber

  Quite often on the way up to receive Holy Communion, I stop and venerate the tapestry icon that shows Christ’s body “lying in state,” surrounded by the Virgin Mary, the Apostle John, and the angels.  Unlike painted icons of Christ hanging vertically on walls, this woven icon is placed on a covered table called in Greek epitaphios. During the Holy Friday night service the epitaphios is taken outside and processed around the church building much…

Heading to the Cross

    Holy Week is a reenactment of the last week of Jesus’ life.  Through Scripture readings, songs, chants, and prayers, the Orthodox Church relives the last days of Christ.  Holy Week is an opportunity for us to follow our God and Savior to the Cross.  In Orthodoxy’s sacramental understanding of reality, we are there in spirit partaking of the events of Holy Week. On Great Friday we observe the Holy, saving, and…

The Dark Side of the First Christmas

    Normally, the Christmas season is viewed as a time of holiday cheer. Of twinkling lights, fragrant pine trees, peppermint candy canes, eggnog drinks, gingerbread cookies, happy songs in the air as people go shopping for gifts, and the smiling children eagerly anticipating opening their presents. But for many the year 2015 has been a year filled with tragedy and loss. A sense of darkness and mourning hangs heavy in the air as…

An Early Christian Prayer to Mary

  Many Reformed Christians like Orthodox Christians hold the Virgin Mary in high regard.  That many Reformed Christians are even willing to call her “Theotokos” is not surprising in light of the fact that the Reformed tradition accepts the first four Ecumenical Councils: Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), and (Chalcedon 451) (See the Second Helvetic Confession Chapter 11).  It was at the Third Ecumenical Council (431) that Mary’s title as the…

Holy Saturday and the Harrowing of Hell

  During Holy Week each day has a particular theme, a spiritual lesson for the faithful who attend the services.  As an Orthodox Christian I get much of my theological education not from reading books but from attending the services.  In addition to the Scripture readings, the hymns and prayers of the Church teach me about how God saved us in Christ.  They form as it were a running commentary on the…

The Triumphal Entry – Palm Sunday

  This year while Protestants and Roman Catholics have already celebrated Palm Sunday, for Orthodox Christians Palm Sunday still lies ahead. Palm Sunday is a familiar event for many Christians but it is a profound multi-layered event that has much to teach us about our God and Savior Jesus Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel we read a quote from the prophet Zechariah: Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a…