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

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

Theology without the Lines

Imagine some centuries ago, a pregnant woman is placed in a dungeon.  She gives birth to a son while in this prison.  Having no windows except one near the top that allows some sunlight in during the day, the woman uses a pencil and paper pad, her sole possessions, and draws pictures for her son.

The pictures include things such as trees, flowery landscapes, mountains, and some animals.  The boy treasures these sketches for he has never seen the outside world.  Whenever the boy imagines the great outdoors, it is consequently in the form of pencil sketches.

One day, he is released from the dungeon.  Squinting in the bright sunlight, he is shocked to find that the world around him is not composed of pencil marks, but rather of objects that have no hard outlines.  The leaves on the trees, the branches, the birds, and the sun need no outlines because their very essence fills the places that the lines symbolized.

***

Here in our world, the scriptures and the theology of the church have been bestowed upon us by those fathers who, with a purified heart, have experienced theoria.  They have caught glimpses of this expansive Other World and bequeath to us their pencil sketches in the form of enlightened theology.

Sometimes we argue about what the sketches actually represent, but the sketches must remain. Continue reading Theology without the Lines

Toll Houses and the Fathers of the Church

In my last blog, I focused less on quotes from the fathers and more on the controversy itself surrounding the toll houses.  Here, I want to present writings from the saints of the Orthodox Church that discuss the departure of the soul.  If one includes commentary from scripture, patristic writings, and divine services, there are hundreds of these texts.  For the sake of brevity (and because this is a blog and not a scholarly work), many quotes are partial.  More details can be found in the book from which most of these quotes come: The Departure of the Soul.

St. Justin Martyr, †166

Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only-begotten from the hand of the dog; save me from the lion’s mouth (Psalm 21:20-21)…[This was written] so that, when we arrive at the end of life, we may ask the same petition from God, who is able to turn away every shameless evil angel from taking our souls. Continue reading Toll Houses and the Fathers of the Church

Toll Houses: Truth or Lie?

The Unnecessary Controversy:

I first learned about the toll houses from a friend who was quite concerned that I be exposed to the truth early in my journey into Orthodoxy.  He sent me a copy of Fr. Michael Azkoul’s booklet: The Toll-House Myth: The Neo-Gnosticism of Fr. Seraphim Rose.  I was not impressed with the book, but since I had no other knowledge of the subject, I agreed with my friend and the author that the toll house doctrine must be some kind of new heresy that has been emphasized in the past couple of centuries, especially in Russian Orthodoxy.

Several years later, my beliefs have completely changed.  No one argued me into changing sides.  Shortly after my conversion, when I saw that there were various controversies between modern Orthodox people, I decided to mostly stay away from books that were not written by people glorified as saints of the church.  That “limits” me to tens of thousands of texts written over the past 1,900+ years.

I have no shortage of reading material. Continue reading Toll Houses: Truth or Lie?

A Conversation

“I often feel, when I try to repent, that God looks at me saying, ‘You again?  Ugh.  Why can’t you ever get it right?’” she said to me.

“I think that is because we forget that each side eagerly wants to win us over,” I replied.  “The devil keeps receiving us back into sin, even after we’ve turned to God and made a good confession.  We have no problem believing that the devil will always take us back.  However, God desires our return even more so.  Our Lord told the Apostle Peter to forgive his brother seventy times seven.  The Lord is even more merciful than that and will forgive us more than seventy times seven everyday if necessary.”

I continued, “The Lord’s capacity for mercy and love far exceeds the devil’s for hatred.  As much as the devil wants to see us fall, and as much as we feel that pressure, he is not nearly as motivated as God is to see us saved.”

“But I still can’t help thinking of God as being angry.  He must have his finger hovering over the ‘Smite’ button when he looks at me,” she said. Continue reading A Conversation

The Unholy Double Standard

I think anyone who is diligently pursuing the spiritual life of repentance knows the frustration of losing the battle to sin on a daily basis.  Many of us have habitual sins that we cannot seem to break.  We fall into sin, we feel dirty and unworthy, we ask God to forgive us, and then we get up and try again.

However, if we are to be honest, many of us sometimes feel at least a hint of hopelessness.   We wonder if God really wants to take us back.  If we’re constantly falling into the same sin over and over, will God justly become angry with us and refuse to accept our repentance?

The devil would sure like for us to lose hope.  But here is the double standard: when repenting of a sin, and then being tempted to fall into it again, I have never said to myself, “No, I might as well give up on sinning.  After repenting so many times, I don’t think the Devil will take me back.” Continue reading The Unholy Double Standard