The Awakening: Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome

beauty_and_the_beast_by_austh-smSome people have criticized the classic Disney movie Beauty and The Beast due to its romantic display of Stockholm Syndrome, which is a phenomenon in which someone held captive develops an emotional attachment and loyalty to his or her captor. While the Disney film makes the beast reform his ways and repent, what if the story took a different direction? What if he remained a ravaging beast and she still fell in love with him?

What if we all have Stockholm Syndrome? What if our culture and our flesh are our beastly captors, and being raised by them and in them has caused us to sympathize with our captors?

What would freedom look like, perhaps a body that is in submission to the soul? Continue reading The Awakening: Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome

Resources on Toll-Houses and the After Life

Orthodox toll house iconI know of only a few other topics in Orthodoxy that can cause as much division as toll houses.  With that in mind, I have put together a page in order to assist people who want to know more information.  Most people I’ve spoken to and resources I’ve encountered that oppose the toll house theology end up creating an overly-literal and exaggerated concept of the toll-houses, or they strive so hard to refute toll-houses that they find themselves in the opposite extreme of sharing theology with groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who teach “soul sleep.”

The resources I have to offer are 1) Free electronic resources and 2) Printed books that are usually a bit more in-depth.  The main purpose of this brief blog post is to point to the resources page that I have been maintaining and periodically updating.

Click here to go to the resource page.

Hidden Sunshine and the Wrath of God

anastasis-croppedAs a child, I remember hearing parts of Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God being praised. My impression I gathered at that age was that I was dirty and sinful and could be crushed at any moment by God’s big, angry hands.

Growing up, I tried to distance myself from that belief, but didn’t know where the balance lies. The Bible is full of wrathful imagery, but even more so does it speak of the love of God. “God is love,” the holy theologian John states, and to fear is to not be made perfect in love.  But reading through the prophets and the book of Revelations is certainly enough to scare just about anyone.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of the angry God is Buddy Christ who is always smiling and just wants to be best friends. This looked to me as cheap and plastic as the statue with which the image is frequently associated. But that didn’t help me know the truth, just what wasn’t truth. Continue reading Hidden Sunshine and the Wrath of God

Bitter Fruit and Growing Up

ripe_for_the_picking_by_retrodevil-d58ek6sAbout ten years ago during a stay in Florida, I found a tiny orange tree with a large, plump orange on it. I picked it and excitedly bit into the orange only to find that it was terribly bitter – to the point of being inedible. Disappointed, I tossed it and asked the native Floridians with whom I was staying about it. They advised me that some orange trees grown from seed are bitter in the first years.

Ten years later, I remembered that experience and thought of its lesson for me. While some produce bitter fruit, most fruit trees produce no fruit Continue reading Bitter Fruit and Growing Up

Passing Through the Fire: Will All Be Saved?

Final JudgmentI don’t like the idea of anyone languishing in hell forever. For that reason, the topic of heaven and hell intrigued me for years, especially when someone made a good case for doctrine that is more palatable. When Rob Bell published his book Love Wins, he rightly argued that he was not asking any questions or presenting any arguments that Christians have not made before him. In my pre-Orthodox days, this idea excited me. After all, many in Protestantism are looking for creative new ways to understand the Bible.

On the one hand, we have innumerable Christians throughout the ages Continue reading Passing Through the Fire: Will All Be Saved?

Contemplating the Face of Christ

Face of Christ Holy Napkin Towel ShroudA friend recently asked me, “What does it mean to contemplate the face of Christ?”  Here is an attempt to provide an answer:

That is a difficult question and I honestly cannot give you an answer that is based from my own experience. But, God willing, I will give you something that will help out at least a little bit.

First of all, contemplation (as I have come to understand it in Orthodoxy) has nothing to do with the imagination. So, we do not picture Christ in our minds in order to contemplate Him and His face. Doing so ultimately leads to idolatry because Continue reading Contemplating the Face of Christ

Whose Ascetic Am I?

bulgaria mall-bulgariamall.bgI remember a day in my college years, I was in a department store trying on some shoes and a pretty young lady was sitting a few feet from me.  She had some flashy, fashionable high heel she was trying on and her mother remarked, “Those look uncomfortable.”  Completely unfazed, the daughter replied with a smile, “pain is beauty.”  Now, some ten years later, that brief conversation still comes to mind.  What does it say about our humanity? Continue reading Whose Ascetic Am I?

Saint Moses the Black

st_moses_3_trim_1200One of the first saints I encountered while researching Orthodoxy was St. Moses the Black (also called the Ethiopian).  There was something about his unconquerable spirit, when faced with temptation, that greatly inspired me.  Additionally, the man had grasped what it means to be humble and to not judge one’s neighbor.  Below I will provide some excerpts from the Prologue of Ohrid by St. Nikolai Velimirovich and some of St. Moses’ teachings from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

The Reading

Moses was an Ethiopian by birth and by profession, at first, a robber and leader of a band of robbers and, after that, a penitent and great ascetic. As the slave of a master, Moses escaped and joined the robbers. Because of his great physical strength and arrogance, the robbers chose him as their leader. Continue reading Saint Moses the Black

The Many-Faced Painting: A Parable

Reach by Kevin Conor Keller - ordinaryfoxThere was once a grand and beautiful painting created by a genius artist. He gave this painting to his students before departing this world. The students wrote many lessons regarding the deep symbolism of the painting and various sayings of their inspiring teacher. The painting was not only the unification and culmination of their writings, but of all of the cosmos and life itself.

In order to share the image with other countries, duplicates of the painting were made with extreme attention to detail. The written texts continued to be passed down from generation to generation along with copies of the painting. Over the years, the painting was framed in many different ways: sometimes it contained a simple wooden frame, other times its frame was gilded with gold and ornate carvings. Various regions created frames depending on Continue reading The Many-Faced Painting: A Parable

In Praise of The Theotokos!

A Homily

016 dormition of theotokos ikonaprazdnichchinuspenie-edit
Some seven hundred years ago, St. Gregory Palamas delivered a beautiful and inspiring homily regarding the Dormition of the Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary. Below are some excerpts:

…There is also nothing dearer or more necessary for me than to expound with due honor in church the wonders of the ever-virgin Mother of God…If “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15) and “the memory of the just is praised” (Prov. 10:7 LXX), how much more fitting is it for us to celebrate with highest honors the memory of the ever virgin Mother of God, the Holy of Holies, through whom the saints receive their hallowing?

That is exactly what we are doing today by commemorating her holy dormition and passing away, through which, having been made a little lower than the angels (cf. Ps. 8:5), she arose incomparably higher than the angels, archangels, Continue reading In Praise of The Theotokos!

Reflection: Grace and Freedom

Justin Popovich with children-smallThe person of Christ the God-man presents in itself the ideal image of human personality and knowledge.  The person of Christ of itself traces and defines the path of a Christian’s life in every way.  In Him is found the most perfect realization of the mystical union of God and man, while at the same time He reveals both God’s work in man and man’s in God.

God and man working together is the basic indication of Christian activity in the world.  Man works with God and God with man (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9).  Working within and around himself, the Christian gives himself entirely to ascesis, but he does this, Continue reading Reflection: Grace and Freedom

Reflection: Humility

saintjustinpopovichwithchildFaith has its own thought-forms, having as it does its own way of life.  A Christian not only lives by faith [1], but also thinks by faith.  Faith presents a new way of thinking, through which is effected all the work of knowing in the in the believing man.  This new way of thinking is humility.

Within the infinite reality of faith, the intellect abases itself before the ineffable mysteries of new life in the Holy Spirit.  The pride of the intellect gives way to humility and modesty replaces presumption.  The ascetic of faith protects all his thoughts through humility, and thereby also ensures for himself the knowledge of eternal truth. Continue reading Reflection: Humility