The Tao of Christ: A Story from the East

Below is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a good friend of mine who is not a Christian, but who has been on a quest for spiritual truth and authenticity for many years. In it, I try to express the truth of Christianity without getting too caught up in the normal terminology that we Christians use.

I do feel like the past holds the key answers for the present. The more I read the Buddha, Lao Tzu (Taoism), Confucius, and Eastern Orthodox desert spirituality, the more I see that the spiritual giants of the past were pointing humanity toward many of the same things. I’m not a fan of syncretism because it tends to ignore diversity within each system while trying to suppress the differences. But the teachings of these amazing men and women have survived thousands of years because, over and over, humanity has confirmed that their teachings are the closest thing to truth that we have discovered. Continue reading The Tao of Christ: A Story from the East

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

Orthodox Fundamentalism

I have seen an erroneous sentiment regarding the Ecumenical Councils expressed among a small number of Orthodox Christians.  It goes something like this, “What was proclaimed in the Councils is dogma of the Church; all other ideas fall into the category of theologoumenon (non-doctrinal theological opinion).”  In other words, nearly anything in the writings of the Fathers of the Church is merely opinion unless it has been confirmed by one of the seven Ecumenical Councils.

I believe this falls into the trap of “Orthodox Fundamentalism” or “Mere Orthodoxy.”  Here is what I mean by that: Continue reading Orthodox Fundamentalism

What Do Icons Mean?

007-Trinity-icon-hospitality-AbrahamThe following is an article written by iconographer Michael Goltz. In it, he explains the theology of the icon, its use, symbolism, how/why characters are portrayed, etc. I hope it is as beneficial to you as it was to me.

The iconography of our Orthodox Church, with all of its symbolism and spiritual meaning, is central to the Church’s teaching. People are greatly influenced by what they contemplate, and so the Church, in its love for its faithful, has given us iconography in order to help us contemplate God. The Church has elevated iconography to a place of prominence as a teaching tool. What the Gospels proclaim with words, the icon proclaims visually. Continue reading What Do Icons Mean?

The Great Fast and The Pharisee

Publican Pharisee iconBecause the Orthodox Church was instituted by God to be the hospital for our souls, everything within it has been ordained through the Holy Spirit for our salvation. The upcoming season of Great Lent (the Great Fast) is no exception.

In her wisdom, the Church does not simply throw us straight into a difficult fast, but rather slowly steps us toward it: both theologically and practically. The Church readings on Sundays teach us important lessons about fasting, and on a practical level, the fasting begins slowly with Meatfare Sunday.

WHY FAST?

It is pertinent to ask why do we fast?  Continue reading The Great Fast and The Pharisee

Assaulting God, Part 4

WHY ANY OF THIS MATTERS

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In 1881, Charles Taze Russell founded Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society; image from Wikipedia
In 1881, Charles Taze Russell founded Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society

After the first few months of meeting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I revealed to my neighbor that I honestly thought the Witnesses were Christians and good people, only a bit misguided. He was surprised and rightly told me that they were outside of the truth and not in a good place spiritually.

Those were my pre-Orthodox days and I was wrestling with what it meant to be a Christian. My thoughts were that there are so many thousands of ways to interpret the Bible, how can we possibly say that one group is better than another? If someone is trying to live a godly life, what does it matter if they are a mess doctrinally? Aren’t we all a mess? Continue reading Assaulting God, Part 4