As with all icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Pentecost icon teaches theology and brings us into the reality of the event depicted. Below are a few reflections on the symbolism and meaning of this icon.
The Position of the figures represents harmony in which no apostle is better than another. The inverse perspective prevents the apostles who are near the back of the semicircle from being painted as smaller, which would happen in the rendering of most normal paintings. In actuality, they are depicted slightly larger, particularly Peter and Paul as the chief apostles. But even then, they are among equals.
There is also no discord or chaos, which contrasts with some of the Western paintings of this event, which can be a bit dramatic. There is no sign of appearing drunk, which they were accused of that morning. Everything is sober and harmonious. Continue reading Pentecost Icon Explained
Last night, a man, heavily armed with firearms, entered into a gay club and killed over 50 people, and injured even more. This is the most deadly shooting we have experienced in America. The man who committed this atrocious crime was reportedly a Muslim who had either sympathies or direct ties with the radical Islamic State group.
While I cannot offer an official statement from the Orthodox Church, I can say that myself and many other Orthodox Christians grieve with the family and friends of those who were murdered in this senseless act of violence. Continue reading For Orlando
A great and powerful king ruled over 100 beautiful cities. However, one of the cities fell into trouble: enemies came from outside and persuaded many in the city to rebel, telling them, “The king lives so far away, he doesn’t care for you anymore. Why don’t you appoint a new king among yourselves?” As the people fought with one another about who would be the new king, the enemy’s army suddenly invaded, destroying and burning the city, while making its inhabitants their slaves.
What do you think this wise, powerful, but loving king did? He left the ninety-nine safe cities and came to the rescue of the one lost city. He and his army drove out the enemies and freed the enslaved people. What was the king’s next course of action? Did he burn down the remainder of the city and kill all the people? No! Instead, he constructed even greater walls and more magnificent buildings. He made the city even greater than before! Continue reading The Glorious Ascension
Although six hundred and three thousand armed [Israelite] men were said to have left Egypt, no more than two of these entered the promised land…many are said to be called but few are said to be chosen. Bodily renunciation and removal from Egypt, as it were, will be of no value to us, therefore, if we have been unable to obtain at the same time the renunciation of heart which is more sublime and more beneficial. -Elder Paphnutius 
There are some Christians who believe that works of charity and social justice are the primary evidence of being a Christian. They point to passages such as what is in Matthew 25 regarding the sheep and goats. Some even attest that the Gospel boils down to nothing other than charitable works toward one’s neighbor.
But is that the entire gospel message? I don’t believe so, Continue reading The Half Gospel of Spiritual Death
There was a man who had not eaten in days. Passing out from hunger, he dreamed he was at a luxurious banquet, surrounded by food of every kind. He ate every delicious meat, cheese, and rich food one could imagine. But his hunger never abated. The more he ate, the more tortured he felt. But what choice did he have? He continued to gorge himself, never finding satisfaction.
This is a metaphor for the spiritual life. Continue reading Illusionary Food and the True Bread
Timothy and Maura were a young couple who had been married for only twenty days. They suffered during the reign of Diocletian (284-305). Timothy was captured first and charged with being a Christian, which he confirmed. It was discovered that he was a reader in the church, which means, among other things, he was responsible for the safekeeping of the Christian books and scripture. Possessing such materials was a crime punishable by death.
When he refused to deny his faith and reveal the location of the sacred writings, he was then tortured so severely that even the torturers and the people watching asked the governor to ease up a bit. The governor refused and only sat around devising even more cruel ways to torture brave Timothy. Continue reading Holy Martyrs Timothy and Maura
The serpent found a second Eve in the Egyptian woman, and with words of flattery he sought to make Joseph fall. But, leaving his garment behind him, Joseph fled from sin; and like the first man before his disobedience, though naked he was not ashamed. (Bridegroom Matins, Canticle Nine).
Frequently during the course of Great Lent, as well as Holy Week, we look upon the example of the Old Testament patriarch Joseph. Earlier in the same service, we sing,
Jacob lamented the loss of Joseph, but his righteous son was seated in a chariot and honored as a king. For he was not enslaved to the pleasures of Egypt, but he was glorified by God who sees the hearts of men and bestows upon them a crown incorruptible. (Canticle One)
[Jacob’s] wise and glorious son was enslaved in body but kept his soul free from bondage, and became lord over all Egypt.
And lastly, we reflect upon a different type of robe: Continue reading Not Naked, But Clothed in Glory
There’s a tendency for us modern folks to feel that the teachings of the fathers of the church are too lofty and are unapproachable for the common person. So, if we read at all, we stick to modern authors who distill the works of the fathers into something more intellectually palatable.
However, I don’t believe this watering down of the fathers is necessary. Granted, some fathers such as St. Maximos the Confessor are quite lofty and can be difficult to understand at times. There are also some modern Greek theologians who make me pull out my dictionary with every other sentence.
But besides these and a few others, most of the works of the fathers are quite approachable. Why? Because, as anyone who studies history knows, we are not so different than the people who have come before us. Therefore, the issues that even the most ancient fathers address are quite similar to our everyday problems. While there are new ways to sin (cyber theft, internet pornography, etc), these are still the same base passions with slightly different means.
Years ago, I heard somewhere that the true genius does not need to talk above everyone else, but is able to grasp the truth so effectively that he can explain it in a way that most ordinary people can understand. Continue reading St. Gregory Palamas: The Approachable Genius
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Mark 8:34
These well known words by Christ are true for every Christian in every generation. Those who suffer for God take up their cross and follow Him. In the New Testament we are endlessly reminded that there is no way to the Kingdom of Heaven without suffering. To live the Christian life is to give up our ideas of comfort, security, and self-will in order to accept hardships, tribulations, and a cross.
The desert father, St. Barsanuphius, puts it so succinctly:
Pass over from the world, and henceforth mount the Cross, be lifted from the earth. Continue reading The Cross, The Suffering, and The Glory
Our house is nestled in a cove between two mountain ranges. One in front of the house, and the other behind. There are popular trails that follow the ridges of the mountains for those who enjoy a difficult hike.
The other night, we heard a helicopter circling nearby. We peaked out a window and realized a hiker must have been injured and called for emergency assistance. The helicopter spent some time maneuvering into the rescue area, which was near the ridge of the mountain slope. It was night time and a storm was rolling in, so the task was both dangerous and difficult to navigate. Continue reading The Prayer Flare
“Self-pity is the root of all our stumblings into sin. He who does not indulge himself is always steadfast in good.” – St. Theophan the Recluse
SELF-PITY AND GRIEVING
I recently experienced a minor grief – nothing compared to what many people suffer. However, during that time I realized one of the keys between healthy grieving and sinful despair is the focus of our thoughts. When I began dwelling upon, “I’ll never get to see her again,” or “She’ll never be able to make me laugh again like she used to,” I found it was quite easy to slip into despair. Continue reading Self-Pity: A Quiet Snare