Raising Lazarus and Seeing with Faith

I wrote a series of commentaries on the hymns and themes of Holy Week.  Since this year we were kept from church by the social distancing practice due to COVID-19, I thought I would reflect on some of the themes of Holy Week with our unprecedented situation in mind. Here’s the first one. Tonight and tomorrow morning we celebrate the raising of Lazarus from the dead after he had been ‘asleep’ in…

A Mormon Prayer

A little while ago I ran across a self-help book written by a Mormon.  I read through it quickly and found nothing particularly interesting or novel in it, just standard, good self-help advice.  Then I came across this prayer: “Lord, help me to forgive those who sin differently than I do.” That line has stayed with me.  I can’t say that I have actually prayed it much, but I have thought a…

Transformation, Conformation, Shame and Sexual Desire

When I first began visiting the monastery, after I had developed something of a friendship with the monks, I asked the brothers if they experienced any particular problems repressing their sexual urges.  They told me that they do not repress, but redirect.  That is, the desire and longing that, in the world, is generally expressed in sexual longing, they turn toward God as the One they long for most. When they told…

Lustful Thoughts

Many do not realize that the ancient Church Fathers deal rather specifically with the problem of unwanted sexual thoughts, albeit from a man’s perspective.  Unfortunately, there were very few women in the ancient world who were able or had the leisure to read and write, so there is a dearth of information about the inner life of women in the early centuries of the Church.  Consequently, women have to translate the struggles…

Holy Embezzlement

Luke 16 contains one of the most difficult to understand parables of Jesus.  It is commonly called the parable of the Unjust Steward.  For most of my life the parable offended me.  Like the Pharisees in 16:14, I want to deride Jesus for telling a parable that, on the face of it, advocates embezzlement.  The servant in the parable gets sacked for “wasting” his master’s goods, so the servant decides to earn…

Indifference and Trying Harder

In my last post, Finding Peace Despite Sinful Thoughts, I spoke of the struggle to accept the struggle, to be at peace despite ongoing sinful thought.  I compared this struggle to the battle I have in my garden with bindweed. One of the readers of that article wrote the following comment, and I thought that I would share my response with everyone.  Here’s the comment: Thank you Father, One of the problems…

Finding Peace Despite Sinful Thoughts

It’s mid May and I’m weeding my garden again.  It is one of the most spiritually instructive physical activities of my year.  My on-going battle with one weed in particular functions as a genuine icon of my inner life.   Generally speaking, my wife and I are laissez-faire gardeners.  We have very few rows of anything, just areas where we plant one thing or another—often led by what volunteers in a given…

Success Through Failure In Lent

My soul’s dignity I have enslaved to the passions; I am become like the beasts, and have no power to lift mine eyes to Thee, O Most High. But with my head bowed like the Publican, I pray to Thee, O Christ, and cry aloud: God be merciful to me and save me. (Verse 10, Lord I have Called, Friday Presanctified Liturgy, fourth week of Lent)   All of the great spiritual…

Knowing Your Measure

I’ve been reading the letters of Sts. Barsanuphius and John, written in the early sixth century in the region of Gaza.  One thing that has struck me as I am reading these letters is the pastoral compassion and just plain common sense these two holy men advocate in their correspondence.  These letters are written by and to monks living in extreme conditions.  Some are hermits, Barsanuphius has sealed himself into a room…

The Manuscript of Our Life

   In St. Isaac the Syrian’s homily 62, St. Isaac offers us the metaphor of a manuscript in rough draft to help us understand why on-going repentance is important for Christians regardless of their real or imagined state of spiritual maturity.  Here is the paragraph that uses the metaphor: Life in the world is like a manuscript of writings that is still in rough draft.  When a man wishes or desires to…