Faith and Works

A renown Protestant theologian recently accused the Eastern Orthodox Church of teaching a “cursed” theology of salvation by faith and works.

I have seen such attacks on the Orthodox Church before, and I usually ignore them due to the ignorance of the speaker.  But since this is a common misconception about Orthodoxy, I thought I would put together this article to hopefully provide clarity.

Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, has a 16 minute video posted below in which he refutes the mistakes that the Protestant theologian made.  He is more gracious and patient than me.  I’ll provide a summary of my understanding on this topic and then link to Mr. Hanegraaff’s video.

Neither works nor faith alone will save you

Continue reading Faith and Works

The Butterfly and the Cross

When reflecting upon a short video I watched on the transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly, I was struck by an interesting fact: the caterpillar digests itself and turns into ooze.

As a caterpillar hangs from a branch entering into its next life phase, its exterior hardens, transforming into the familiar cocoon.  However, its interior does the opposite.  For a period of days, the creature that was once a caterpillar turns into goo with its digestive enzymes breaking down its body.  Miraculously, the pile of ooze encased inside the cocoon will transform into a beautiful butterfly.

In this process, I see a reflection of our transformation from lowly creatures crawling about in hardships and sin to flying creatures of beauty.  I’m sure thousands of Christians have written about this parallel.  But the thing that caught my interest was the pile of goo.

That pile of goo represents everything that the caterpillar had been through and assimilated into itself during its short life.  When it becomes a butterfly, the goo is not removed with something else taking its place, but rather the goo is the very material used to transform the lowly caterpillar into a butterfly.

I see the same with us.  All our lives we accumulate these sinful passions, terrible experiences, abusive situations, anger and hate: in a word, a big sticky pile of goo that seems to have no redemptive value. Continue reading The Butterfly and the Cross

Unveiled Holiness

There exists a tendency in our American culture to think of ourselves as being on familiar terms with God.  I am a friend of God proclaims the chorus of one popular Protestant “praise” song; Jesus is my homeboy states a trendy shirt design.  Our Lord is much more comfortable if he is friend, homeboy, or Buddy Christ, and God the Father if he is little more than a senile grandpa upstairs who blindly loves all of his little grandchildren.  A god that demands nothing from us and only exists to make us feel good is wildly popular, but is a false god created in our own image.

Many Christian groups have created a false sense of familiarity with God by removing awe and reverence from Christian worship.  They have banished the priesthood (after all, we’re all priests anyway, right?); stripped the walls of sacred art; replaced a service focused on the presence of Christ with one focused on a sermon; and replaced architectural beauty with either four walls and a pulpit or something that looks more like a nightclub.  All of this removes from us a proper sense of reverence. Continue reading Unveiled Holiness

Good King Wenceslas

You’ve probably heard the song Good King Wenceslas around Christmas time. Who was he and why do we sing about him?

He was king of the Czechs about a thousand years ago and ruled with utmost compassion and love for his people. His heart was bigger than his entire kingdom. In addition to numerous charitable deeds that he personally carried out, he also translated part of the New Testament into the language of the people so they could understand it.

Today is his feast day, that is, the day on which he is remembered and commemorated. Below is more about St. Wenceslas, also called Vatslav from the The Prologue of Ochrid:

Vatslav was the grandson of St. Ludmilla. As king, he labored in the Faith like the great ascetics, and strengthened the Orthodox Faith among his people. He was strict in ensuring that no innocent person suffer in the courts. In his zeal for the Christian Faith and in his love for his fellow man, St. Vatslav purchased pagan children who were being sold as slaves, and immediately baptized them and raised them as Christians. He translated the Gospel of St. John into the Czech language, and transported the relics of St. Vitus and St. Ludmilla to Prague. His brother Boleslav invited him to be his guest, and then killed him in his court. Immediately after this, Boleslav brought in German priests and had the services celebrated in Latin. St. Vatslav suffered in the year 935 and his relics repose in Prague.


More information: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2017/09/28/102754-martyr-wenceslaus-the-prince-of-the-czechs

Image credit: https://www.eerdmans.com/Products/Default.aspx?bookid=5209

Iconography and Idolatry – Part 2

In the last blog, we established that neither God, Moses, nor the scriptures are iconoclastic.  Without a doubt, the Mosaic Law was intended as a firm safeguard against idolatry, but the ancient Jewish temple itself was an image, an icon of the heavenly one complete with various carvings of things on earth and in heaven, including cherubim.  Archeologists have discovered paintings of Old Testament scenes lining the walls of the Jewish synagogues during the time of Christ in the Greco-Roman world.

Yet, in all of this, God was never depicted.  Why?  Because God’s nature is invisible and incomprehensible.  One cannot paint God because God cannot be painted — at least not in His divine nature.

About 2,000 years ago, God became incarnate and mysteriously wrapped His divinity in humanity.  If someone had a smartphone, they could have taken a picture of God and texted it to their friends.  Since such technology did not exist, people settled with paintings of the God-man Jesus Christ.

Continuing the Jewish tradition of lining places of worship with images (icons), Christians had paintings of our Lord, His Mother, various saints, and numerous scenes from the Gospels. Continue reading Iconography and Idolatry – Part 2

Iconography and Idolatry, Part 1

holy friday, good friday OrthodoxWhen walking into an Orthodox Church for the first time, an inquirer may be surprised to see the walls covered with images (Greek “ikon”).  Perhaps even more shocking would be the sight of Orthodox Christians kissing and reverencing the icons in various ways.

Is not the second of the Ten Commandments iconoclastic?

You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. (Exodus 20:4-5)

The answer to that question is no.  Neither God nor the commandments of the Torah [1] are iconoclastic when understood properly.  After all, God created the first icon, and it was of Himself:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image [ikon], according to Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)

The word “icon” simply means “image,” so in the Greek Septuagint (Old Testament), God made “ikon” when He made man. [2] Continue reading Iconography and Idolatry, Part 1

A Reflection on an Assembly

A few weeks ago, I attended the 40th Assembly of the Diocese of the South of the OCA.  My priest asked me to write a reflection on it which he shared in the church’s newsletter and I will share here.  I attempted, perhaps not too successfully, to tie the themes together from the various guest speakers, all of whom were quite engaging.

The guest speakers included:

Dr. Nathan Jacobs who has written and directed a documentary called Becoming Truly Human in which he reaches out to the religiously unaffiliated “nones.”  We watched the film and then discussed it for a while.

The second guest speaker was author and professor Dr. Clark Carlton who has written a series of books on the Orthodox faith.  His talk was entitled The Future of Orthodoxy in the Postmodern World: Welcome to the Catacombs (link).

The third talk, given by iconographer, artist, and speaker Jonathan Pageau, was entitled Pentecost for the Zombie Apocalypse (link).  It was honestly quite brilliant.  You can watch it below:

My Reflection

There is ever increasing awareness of the cultural fracturing and disintegration that is happening in America and Western culture as a whole.   From the insanity of our last political election and the riots that followed, to the splintering of sexuality and gender into an inconceivable number of categories, we are seeing an exponential increase in what some are calling chaos. Continue reading A Reflection on an Assembly