Great Lent: Out with the New, In with the Old

A longtime parishioner, dreading the rigors of Great Lent, approached his priest with a question. “Father, is there anything special I can do to deepen my spiritual life this season?”

“Yes,” the priest replied. “Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”

“Every year it’s the same thing,” the man complained. “Isn’t there something different I can do?”

The Lenten Journey Begins: Forgiveness Sunday

Our two younger children sat alone, stone-faced, in a forest of pews while the other parishioners gathered at the front of the church. We were lining up for the final portion of Forgiveness Vespers, the evening service on Cheesefare Sunday (as in, “Farewell to dairy products!”) that ushers the Orthodox faithful into the season of Great Lent.   With a little bit of parental bribery (dinner at Red Robin), the kids, who…

Liturgy Survival Guide: Musical Theology in the Liturgy of the Word

In the previous post in this series, we delved into the first part of the Divine Liturgy, the Liturgy of the Word. We examined the Doxology and the Great Litany, where we give “glory unto God, who gives the light” and join the deacon in prayers that encompass the whole world. Next, the Church teaches us her liturgical theology in a musical section that is full of textual richness and depth. The…

Liturgy Survival Guide: The Liturgy of the Word

For newcomers exploring the Orthodox Faith, the Divine Liturgy can seem long, meandering, long, repetitive, and long. It can also feel this way for those who have been born into the Church. But if we understand the liturgy as a journey, a pilgrimage with a specific route and a joyful destination, we can follow the roadmap with intentionality, observing the changing seasons on our way to communion with Christ in the Kingdom…

Liturgy Survival Guide: Four Sunday Morning Struggles

[This is the first in a series exploring worship, especially the Divine Liturgy. The posts are designed to increase understanding and, yes, joy in the experience of Orthodox worship. The series is likely to be sporadic and much-interrupted with other topics, because the ecclesiastical calendar waits for no blogger. — LH] Sunday morning in an Orthodox parish can be a confusing experience of culture shock for newcomers. Even those who have done…

Three Ways to Persevere in Orthodox Worship Even When It’s Boring

I’ll admit it. Recently the liturgy felt longer than usual, even though my FitBit told me it wasn’t. I had been unable to corral my wandering thoughts during worship and had difficulty focusing. No spiritual or temporal crisis loomed. I believed the words, I appreciated the service and those who ministered, but going through the motions left me disconnected, stifling yawns. And yet…   The thought of worshiping elsewhere, of looking for…

Three Takeaways from the Protoevangelium of James

During December’s twenty-four days before Christmas, blog readers joined me in reading one “chapter” a day from the Protoevangelium of James, which functions as a sort of prequel and addendum to the gospel accounts of the Nativity. What are we to think of this poetic, mystical document? Scholarly debates about its origins and historicity are way above my pay grade, and the purpose of this devotional exercise was not to debate, but…

People You Should Know: St. Ignatius of Antioch

December is a busy time in the Orthodox tradition. Beyond the Nativity celebration, the month also features the feast days of some flashy, well-known fathers like Saint Nicholas (Dec. 6), Saint Spyridon (Dec. 12), and Saint Stephen, the first martyr from the Book of Acts (Dec. 27). Often lost in the shuffle is a second-century martyr who changed my life: St. Ignatius of Antioch. His feast day is fast approaching (Dec. 20),…

Pondering the Nativity through Iconography

Over the years, I’ve heard variations of a particular message from Christian friends: Icons were created for an illiterate population, but once the Bible became available to the masses and people learned to read, we no longer needed pictures to communicate truth. The reference to the irrelevance of religious art, or “icon worship,” was often accompanied by a patronizing tone of voice that implied that pictures are for children, not for those…

Advent Reading: The Protoevangelium for December

  The first of December is coming! In fact, if you’re reading this on Saturday, it’s here. For those of you who would like to participate in reading one chapter a day of the Protoevangelium of James (also known as the Gospel of James) through Christmas Eve, steep yourself a cup of tea and join me. You can download it here, and if you’d like a brief introduction to this cherished document, you can read…