I had a conversation recently with some friends about how many different interpretations there are for baptism these days. Some see it as a nice symbolic act, others as something you’re just supposed to do since Jesus said so, and still others as a literal cleansing away of sin.
Since there is an ancient Christian document (written around 150 AD) which discusses the baptismal process, I decided it would be best to simply let the early Church speak for itself. Too often we turn to secondary sources for information when the answers can be found in ancient documents if we know where to look. Continue reading Early Church Baptism
In Orthodoxy, there is freedom to wander into the imagination and mystery of the beautiful reality of Christ among us. We have icons which are not merely lovely works of art, but are windows to Heaven that display the truth in spiritual realities. They help us to connect to another world that is otherwise less obvious than the world around us.
But seeing a figure of Christ is not limited to those objects of devotion that we see in Orthodox Churches. With that in mind, I have found one particular character to be a figure of Christ: Vash the Stampede from the Trigun series. Continue reading Seeing Christ in Trigun
Two men walked into church this morning. The first was a well-known and well-liked person. Everyone in the community knew he was a good guy. He always had great answers for everyone’s questions, and he really seemed like one of those people who had it all together.
There was once a man who had three sons. One day, the first son came to his father and said, “Dad, everyone knows you’re rich, and I’d frankly like some money. So what work do you need done around here that’ll earn me a bit of cash?”
When we begin to analyze our motives, it can be a very scary and embarrassing process. But in the long run, it is freeing and healing.
An example from my own life last night: I stopped at a traffic light in downtown Asheville wanting to make a right turn. The person in the left turn lane pulled up past the white line and I couldn’t see around them. Continue reading Hearing God at the Traffic Light
One of the greatest causes of unbelief in God is evil; whether it is through personal experience, something traumatic happening to a friend or loved one, or a tragedy such as tens of children being ruthlessly slaughtered by a mentally unstable man with a high-powered rifle. Events such as these cause an emotional knee-jerk reaction. Something in us is deeply disturbed.
It is good that these things trouble us; it means that we are still in touch with our humanity to some degree.
Essence vs. Energies
I’m going to start this off in a seemingly strange way. A teaching has been passed down through the generations in the Eastern Orthodox Church that helps us to understand a little bit more about God and how we interact with him. It teaches that there is an Essence to God that is purely God. It is the Essence that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all share. It is a part of God that we will never know.
God’s Energies, however, stream and course through our world. They are uncreated and have always been a part of God. They include love, grace, majesty, beauty, peace, creativity, patience, thoughtfulness, gentleness, mercy, kindness, humility, etc. God invites us to not only share in these Energies, but to become one with him through these parts of him that we can contact. The Orthodox call this invitation to oneness with God’s Energies Theosis.
What is evil?
With that established, we can better understand evil.
Evil is not a created force or entity. It is essentially nothing because it is the absence of or the twisting of God’s Energies. The easiest way to think of evil is to liken it to darkness, which has no properties and cannot be measured or even created. You can remove light from a room, but you can’t add darkness to a room. Darkness is not a thing, it is the word we have created to describe the absence of another thing (light).
So, evil is not a thing, it has no “thingness” about it, it has no measurable properties. It is the word that we humans have created to try to describe the absence of God’s Energies when we can feel they are missing.
The Philokalia quotes St. Diadochus of Photiki:
Evil does not exist by nature, nor is any man naturally evil, for God made nothing that was not good. When in the desire of his heart someone conceives and gives form to what in reality has no existence, then what he desires begins to exist. We should therefore turn our attention away from the inclination to evil and concentrate it on the remembrance of God; for good, which exists by nature, is more powerful than our inclination to evil. The one has existence while the other does not, except when we give it existence through our actions.
So why does a loving God allow evil?
If evil is simply the absence or twisting of God’s Energies, why does he allow them to be twisted?
As Archbishop Kallistos Ware said in the Orthodox Way, “Evil is the twisting of what is in itself good. Evil resides not in the thing itself, but in our attitude toward the thing – that is to say, in our will.”
One example is authority. I believe that authority is a good thing from God. However, it is often abused and twisted. A leader is meant to serve. But we see how twisted it can become when people rule out of fear or a desire to control. Another example is having resources to acquire enough to fulfill one’s needs. However, hording and greed are evil.
So, in short, the answer to the above question is that God created us with free will, which in turn allows us to twist and distort what was meant for good. That of course begs another question:
Why did God create us with free will, or why isn’t it more restrictive?
By definition, free-will is not restrictive, or else it is not free will. So, it is either something we have or we do not have. There isn’t an in between.
The reason God gave us free will is because of love. We could never give or receive genuine love if we had no free will. Love is inherently risky. It reminds me of the movie Bruce Almighty.
The above video shows Bruce speaking to “God” regarding his frustration over his girlfriend leaving him. He has all of this power, but he cannot force the woman he wants to fall in love with him. And if he could, then it wouldn’t be love anyway.
We are all given free will, and with it we have committed the most horrible atrocities that have surely made the heavens weep, and we have completed the most beautiful acts of love and sacrifice that have made mankind and the heavens rejoice. Love is risky.
Was it worth it though?
For some, it may seem that it wasn’t worth the risk. There’s too much pain, too much heart-ache, too much evil. I can understand that sentiment. Yet, because I have experienced deep love from God and others in this life, I can begin to grasp why the Creator of life made us with free will.
I’m not sure any great or clever argument will help someone see differently who feels free will isn’t worth it. It is something we must come to know with our heart, and the only way to do so is to open ourselves to the Energies of God, namely love and trust.
Love is something we must experience. It is not a rational argument. So, I can only invite you to join me in the quest of finding love and connecting with the Divine Energies. When you catch a glimpse of that connection, I can assure you, that you will still see all of the evil in the world. In fact, it will probably grieve you even more. But you will begin to experience and witness love in a way that not only enables you to bare the pain of the world, but heals you and makes you whole. In turn, you may be given the grace to begin healing the world around you.
This is a shorty story I wrote about one of my greatest struggles: living in the present moment. While many people wrestle with the past, the future brings me anxiety. Learning to be present is perhaps one of the most important steps toward mastering prayer and contemplation and experiencing the presence of God.
Theophany, sometimes called Epiphany, is upon us (Богоявление in Russian, Θεοφάνεια in Greek). The sixth of January is the official date that the baptism of Christ is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is not to be confused with the Western holiday also called Epiphany which is a celebration of the magi presenting the baby Christ with their gifts.
I used to think that I was a terrible, or at best, mediocre writer. I’ve written hundreds of songs, but sitting down and writing sentences was intimidating. About four years ago, my wife began to encourage me with my writing. It started slowly, just a blog every once in a while, but I began to enjoy the writing process.
It seems we are stuck in this perpetual cycle of anti-establishment. Our culture feeds on it, and encourages revolutionary figures. Look at most of our heroes and superheroes in American society featured in movies, TV, and the news. They are often people who work alone and battle the establishment.
As discussed in my previous post, for every revolution or reformation in the church, there is a counter-reformation. For the past five hundred years, thousands of groups have popped up exclaiming, “Aha! We finally got it! This is the New Testament Church!” Of course all of that begs the question: why should I believe that you are the one who finally got it right? Isn’t there a bit of arrogance in that assumption? Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 8