On Christian Pacifism

The international policy of our country is one of the few political issues to which I am attentive.  Every election cycle, I analyze the candidates’ positions toward other countries and look for the one who seems to be most peaceful.  The options usually leave me wanting as I listen to candidates argue about their own ability to outspend the others on military expenditures and warfare.  It is quite disturbing.

Yet, I am not a pacifist.  While in my 20’s, I was one, but I could not hold that position after becoming Orthodox and learning more about Christian thought and beliefs over the past 2,000 years.

THE CASE FOR CHRISTIAN PACIFISM

Not all pacifists are Christians, so I will not be addressing the various philosophical arguments that other forms of pacifism make.  Instead, this will be written from a Christian perspective.

Defining our terms is always useful when entering into any kind of discussion that can become difficult.  I have chosen Ted Grimsrud’s definition of pacifism, which comes from the book A Pacifist Way of Knowing: John Howard Yoder’s Nonviolent Epistemology:

Hence, “pacifism” is more than simply approving of peace, which everyone in some sense would do, it is the conviction that the commitment to peace stands higher than any other commitment.

Continue reading On Christian Pacifism

My Humble Neighbor

Years ago, I was speaking with a former neighbor of mine who was a high functioning autistic young man.  We’ll call him Danny.  We were both about to begin mowing our respective lawns, he with a push mower and me with my riding mower.  Danny asked if his yard could be mowed with a riding mower.

We live at the foot of a mountain, so both our yards are sloped, in some areas almost unwalkable.  I explained that due to the steep slope in his yard, it wouldn’t be safe to use the riding mower (there was some truth to that, but I have to admit I was being lazy and hoping he wasn’t going to ask me for a favor – I feared that’s where he was heading with the conversation).  Danny then pointed to an especially steep part of my yard and asked if I was able to mow that.  I said, “No, I’ll have to come back later and hit that with the trimmer.”

We then commenced our work and both finished about the same time.  As I headed to the steep part of my yard with the trimmer, I noticed it had already been cut.  I turned to Danny, who was still in his yard, and curiously asked, “Did you cut this?”  Continue reading My Humble Neighbor

More on The Five Love Languages

I previously blogged what was meant to be a slight critique of The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman.  It has been one of the more popular posts on this website and I recently received a letter from a reader who was skeptical of Dr. Chapman’s book.  My intention never was to throw Dr. Chapman under the bus.  Therefore, I thought my response to this reader may help provide a balancing counterpart to my original essay.

THE LETTER

Dear M~,

Congratulations on several decades of marriage.  That is a wonderful gift from God.  Many marriages do not last that long these days; and even many marriages that do have no guarantee of continuing in a healthy manner.  Like the Christian struggle that never ends, our marriage is a gift that needs continual upkeep and love.

You are right about the “give-to-get” mentality that is widespread throughout our entire society.  It distorts loving relationships and turns them into something other than what God designed.  Despite that, I would actually recommend you follow your therapist’s suggestion of reading The Five Love Languages.  But do so with discernment.

Continue reading More on The Five Love Languages

You Are Not Your Sexuality

The modern person is experiencing a bit of an identity crisis.  There is a subconscious question being asked, “Is my sexuality an expression of my innermost being, of what it means to be human?”  The marketing departments of large corporations and numerous publishers are pushing us to answer that question with a firm “Yes!”  We are worth far more money to them that way.

But what if the marketers, the publishers, and pop-culture have it wrong?  What if our sexuality is quite insignificant to our humanity?  Then it seems to me we would find that, as a culture, we have been traveling down the wrong road for quite some time.  When traveling down the incorrect path, it is wise to stop and search for clearer direction before moving any further.  Otherwise “progress” turns into regress. Continue reading You Are Not Your Sexuality

Is Easter (Pascha) a Pagan Holiday?

Many of us have read articles or seen memes floating around the internet that attempt to tie the celebration of Christ’s resurrection to some form of paganism.  It seems to me that these rumors are perpetuated by a lack of knowledge regarding ancient Christianity, history, linguistics, and paganism.

THE ORIGIN OF THE NAMES

First of all, according to all ancient accounts of which I’m aware, Jesus Christ was crucified during the time of the Jewish Passover, which in Hebrew is called Pesach, and in Aramaic Pascha.  The timing of the Jewish festival is tied to the cycle of the moon, but always lands somewhere in the spring.  Christians from the most ancient times have seen Jesus’ death and resurrection as the fulfillment of the Passover holiday and have therefore kept the transliterated name for Passover, which is usually a derivative of the word “Pascha.”  Continue reading Is Easter (Pascha) a Pagan Holiday?

What God Finds to Be Beautiful

But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Matthew 26:10)

Today, the Wednesday before Pascha (Easter), we remember this event in which the soul of a harlot was saved through tears and repentance, and the soul of a disciple of Christ was lost forever through greed and envy.

This is the only place in the Gospels that I know of that our Lord and God states something is “beautiful” to Him.  That causes me to stop and ponder: what does God find to be beautiful?

The Psalmist writes, “A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise.” (Psalm 50/51)

When we fall down at the feet of Christ in genuine repentance, it is a beautiful thing for invisibly we are re-establishing inward communion with the God of love, grace, and beauty.  An inward roadway is opened to the heavens for the angels, the saints, and the Lord Himself to descend within us and carry us upward into the heights of heaven, making us adopted children of the most high God.

Suffering to Enter The Bridal Chamber

I see Thy bridal chamber adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter there.  Make the robe of my soul to shine, O Giver of Light, and save me. (Canticle Nine, Holy Tuesday Matins).

O Bridegroom, surpassing all in beauty, Thou hast called us to the spiritual feast of Thy bridal chamber.  Strip from me the disfigurement of sin, through participation in Thy sufferings; clothe me in the glorious robe of Thy beauty, and in Thy compassion make me feast with joy at Thy Kingdom. (ibid)

The door of the bridal chamber is open; God’s wedding feast has been prepared within; the Bridegroom is at hand and calls us.  Let us then make ready. (Canticle Three, Holy Tuesday Great Compline)

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ…And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. (1st Corinthians 1:5,7)

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10)

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. (Philippians 1:29)

There’s a cleansing power in suffering that the false prophets of the worldly gospel refuse to acknowledge.  While forms of American “Christianity” teach health, wealth, and physical beauty, our Lord calls to us from the cross, blood dripping from His holy Body, “Join in my sufferings that you may partake in life.”

There are two roads before us: the “good life” of pleasure and amusement that the world offers us (sometimes cloaked as Christianity) and the road of the cross,  of suffering, and of death.  But through the death of this latter road, we find resurrection in this age and the age to come.

Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelations 22:20)

The Impossibility of Repentance

Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.

In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it. Continue reading The Impossibility of Repentance

Struggling with Hope

In my last blog, Struggling Toward Salvation, I discussed how in Orthodoxy I had to let go of the idea of “blessed assurance,” that salvation is taken care of and now I can just sit back and enjoy life.

In my own reflections, and in discussions with several friends, I have seen a great deal of discouragement.  Once we begin to recognize our pitiful, sinful state, a feeling of hopelessness can easily grip the heart.  But such hopelessness is not godly.

Our fear of God and the Day of Judgement is meant to be reverential and not anxious.  So, while we do not go through this life feeling like we are already saved and the struggle is done, we do persevere in the hope that God, through whatever hardship and trials encounter us, is actively saving us. Continue reading Struggling with Hope

Struggling Toward Salvation

In Eastern Orthodoxy, I am confronted with an uncomfortable fact: the work of my salvation is in progress.

In my Protestant years, I basically learned, “You’ve already been saved, everything is done, now go and enjoy life.”  But Orthodoxy confronts me with an entirely different path of salvation.  Here, I am taught that God accomplished everything on His part to save me.  But now I must do my part.

It is not enough to say, “I am a son of God!” or “Jesus, I want to go to Heaven!”  I must live like a son of God, like a heavenly creature. Continue reading Struggling Toward Salvation

Rejecting Blasphemous Thoughts, Part 2

In 1990, a great holy elder in Romania named Paisius, fell asleep in the Lord.  Recently, a wonderful collection of his stories and teachings was published by St. Herman Press entitled A Little Corner of Paradise, and, I must confess, reading this beautiful collection brings me to a Paradisaical corner.

In one section, he is counseling some women who have come to him, one of whom is struggling with despondency and blasphemous thoughts.  He says to her:

What is this about despair and despondency?  Despondency, despair — this is the greatest sin.  Don’t say, “I won’t be saved, I’m praying in vain.”  No — say, “Where are these thoughts coming from?  Oh, no.  With the help of our dear Mother of God, I will be saved.”  The door of Paradise is open, my dear, if we want to enter; God does not force anyone.  He may sometimes drag someone in — by sending an illness or a difficulty, but God loves him who gives willingly. Continue reading Rejecting Blasphemous Thoughts, Part 2

Rejecting Blasphemous Thoughts

“When I was a novice monk, for a certain period of time, the devil brought to me such blasphemous thoughts even when I was in Church, and I grieved over them a great deal.  Whatever I had heard spoken by others, when I had been a soldier, swear words, curses and so forth, the devil would bring to my mind about the Saints.

“My Spiritual Father would say to me, ‘These thoughts are from the devil.  The fact that a person is grieved over these impure thoughts which go through his mind about the holy and sacred things, this alone is already proof that they are not his own but, rather, come from outside.’  I, however, continued to be distressed by them…

“One day during the Divine Liturgy, at the Trisagion Hymn, I, with the other monks, was chanting quietly the Trisagion Hymn of Neleos.  Then I saw a huge and fearful beast with a dog’s head entering from the door of the Litye.  Flames were coming out of its mouth and its eyes!  He turned and gave me two gestures of a curse, because I was chanting Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us. Continue reading Rejecting Blasphemous Thoughts