The Race Track of the Mind

In the Southern USA, we have a popular sport: NASCAR. In it, a bunch of cars race around an oblong track hundreds of times, often times traveling at least a few hundred miles.  When a car is in the lead, he will usually work hard to block other cars from passing him and taking the lead.

It was not so different in ancient times.  They had chariot races back then and the leader would also try to block others from passing him.

Continue reading The Race Track of the Mind

The Incarnation: The Redemption and Glorification of Matter

It is 251 AD.  A group of persecuted Christians in the catacombs are about to begin their evening prayers – called Vespers.  They stand before two paintings, one of their Lord Jesus and the other of His Mother.  Right before starting, some of their friends burst into the room joyously.  Their secret mission to recover the bones of their slain brethren, who died as martyrs, was a success.  They gather around the relics, each one kissing them and whispering a prayer.  This gathering is not a macabre, secret cult.  Rather, these beautiful bones testify to eternal life in Christ. 

Most of these Christians converted from paganism, which, with its dualistic philosophy, held a low view of the body – that it was nothing more than a cage entrapping the spirit.  What cosmic event could have created such an extreme paradigm shift in the way that humans viewed matter? 

Continue reading The Incarnation: The Redemption and Glorification of Matter

The Fusion of Earthly and Heavenly Worship

The concept of order is seen at the very beginning of creation.  Genesis describes the earth as void and formless.  God then brings the chaos – symbolized by the darkness – into order by separating light from darkness, sky from earth, and earth from sea.  When man is created, he is separated from the rest of creation and placed in Eden, which in turn is also distinct from creation. 

Yet this distinctiveness is not disunion.  From Eden flows four rivers, which is symbolic of Eden supplying life and nourishment to all of the earth – in the four cardinal directions.  At the end of creation, God separates the seventh day as a day of rest, which sanctifies all of the other days.  The Church, in a similar manner, floods all of creation with life, sanctifying the cosmos with grace.  Its distinction from the world is not disunion, but the very thing that enables it to act as a sanctifying force.

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Orthodoxy 101: Proper Etiquette & Worship Practices

Over the years, I’ve received numerous search engine hits for Orthodoxy for dummies or things like how to make an Orthodox prostration. It made me realize that it may be helpful to compile a brief list of basic practices for the Orthodox newbie.

The first and foremost place to learn the externals of Orthodox worship is in your local parish or monastery. While some local customs will vary, the externals as a whole are part of our living tradition and will be fairly consistent.

In the 4th century, St. Basil the Great wrote about Christians standing during worship, facing east in prayer, making the sign of the cross, worship on Sunday, and numerous other practices that he states came from the apostles through oral tradition.  Even the hymn “O Gladsome Light” was quite ancient by his time.

These practices are not superstitious or arbitrary rules. Each one carries with it theological significance. Additionally, bodily joining the Orthodox in their way of worship acknowledges that we as human beings are composed of both a body and a soul, and we unite those things when we worship in Orthodoxy. Continue reading Orthodoxy 101: Proper Etiquette & Worship Practices

Why do the Orthodox have Icons?

It doesn’t take long for someone who is curious about the ancient Orthodox faith to be either surprised or scandalized by the plethora of icons covering the inside of an Orthodox church.  The impression it leaves on the uninitiated may be one of reverence, confusion, or even anger at the supposed idolatry of the Orthodox people.

WHY DO WE HAVE ICONS?

The short answer to this question is because of the Incarnation.  If photographic technology existed at the time of Jesus, we would doubtless have thousands of photos of Jesus.  Because such technology did not exist, the ancients painted his image.  According to tradition, the Apostle Luke painted the first icons.

Icons are a testament of the fact that our God, who is by nature bodiless and incorporeal, took an actual human body and united it to himself, forever uniting the divine nature to human nature, to matter, sanctifying it and redeeming it in himself.  Therefore, the Orthodox have always understood iconoclasm to be a heresy that denies the Incarnation of God and thereby denies humanity its salvation in Christ. Continue reading Why do the Orthodox have Icons?

On Human Suffering

A friend recently asked me about human suffering.  Here is my reply:

Dear –,

I fear I may not be able to answer your question with an intellectually satisfying result, but I will try.

The situation you related pertains to the ancient question of why there is suffering in the world.  People have wrestled with that question for thousands of years.  Suffering ultimately comes from sin disrupting the cosmic order, but externally, it appears to come from two primary sources:

  1. Nature (natural disasters, famine, disease, etc.)
  2. Humanity (war, crime, cruelty, accidents, attachment to the world, etc.)

In order to provide some background, I will also address how the created world has been understood throughout the ages.

GOD CREATED A GOOD WORLD

In ancient times, some pagans (the Greeks in particular) believed that the material world was evil and that its origins were either from an evil god or from a conflict between gods.  They couldn’t bring themselves to admit that a good god would create a world in which there is so much suffering. Continue reading On Human Suffering

We’re never too far from home

There is a beautiful story from the early church regarding the Apostle John, first written down by Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD).  Near the end of his life, John was the overseer of many churches in the region near Ephesus.  At one particular church, he met a young man who was tall, strong, and handsome.  John saw potential in him even though he had not yet joined the church and requested the local bishop especially watch over this youth.

‘This one’, John said, ‘I commit to you in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.’

The bishop accepted the responsibility, and after John departed to go back to Ephesus, the bishop took the young man home, reared him, kept him, cherished him, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord (chrismation), he had given the young man a perfect protection.

But some other youths of a similar age, who were idle, dissolute, and frequent trouble makers, corrupted the boy when he was prematurely given freedom by the bishop. At first they enticed him Continue reading We’re never too far from home

Faith – Works – Salvation

A while back, I published a blog on Faith vs. Works.  It wasn’t very good and it received some much needed criticism for its lack of patristic insight.  So, I thought I would give it another shot.

Probably the reason I got off track last time was because I started within the erroneous Western false dichotomy of faith vs. works.  This time, I won’t discuss the Western positions, Calvinism, Arminianism, Martin Luther, or any others.  The whole faith vs. works argument never existed in the East.  Nor do we teach salvation through works, as if we can earn our way to heaven.

SALVATION IN ORTHODOXY

Instead, here is how I understand Orthodox Soteriology:

God created man in His image and likeness with the purpose of eternally communing with mankind.  However, we fell into sin, shattering the image and likeness of God within ourselves, but not completely destroying it.  The nous, that is the spiritual organ (sometimes translated as mind/intellect in the Bible and the Fathers), was darkened and blinded by sin.  In that state, we could no longer truly commune with God.  For communion in the Orthodox sense is not simply fellowship, but union and oneness.  Death entered humanity through sin, and the creature that was created for eternal communion fell into decay. Continue reading Faith – Works – Salvation

The Oppression of Idleness

Be on your guard against idleness, O beloved, for it conceals a sure death… On [Judgement] Day, God will not judge us about psalmody, nor for the neglect of prayer, but because by abandoning them we have opened our door to the demons. Whenever they find room, they enter and close the doors of our inner chambers and of our noetic eyes,” subjecting us to their tyranny and impurity and holding us captive. [1]

St. Isaac’s warning is even more relative to us today, especially when we understand “idleness” not to be a state of twiddling our thumbs and doing nothing, but all of those moments that we waste our attention on things that God has not called us to, which happens perhaps hundreds of times a day.

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The Next Step in My Journey

Over the years, I have purposely kept the details of my personal life vague in this blog.  I value privacy, both my own and others, and sometimes cringe when I see people share explicitly private details about their lives in public forums online.  However, I am about to embark on the next big step in life and I wanted to share a bit of what is to come and also how my readers can help.

I have received a blessing from my bishop and several priests and mentors whom I have known over the years to begin studies at seminary in order to fulfill my calling in the priesthood.  Last week, my wife and I moved up to Pennsylvania, and later this month, I will begin at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary.

I have not had much of a chance to write fresh material lately since I was working hard at getting our previous home ready to sell, getting packed, and then moving from North Carolina up to Pennsylvania with my wife.  It’s been good, but busy!

If you so desire, here is how you can greatly help me:

1. Please pray, pray, pray!  Anything that we do for God that is worthwhile will come with some resistance from the enemy, that especially goes for those who are pursuing a pastoral ministry.  The devil does not want more priests, and will do what he can to stop me.  I need you, my brothers and sisters, to hold both me and my wife up in prayer as we go through these exciting and challenging years.

2.  My wife and I agreed that the timing was right, and we have stepped out in faith that God will provide for us during our three years here at St. Tikhon’s.  We have been promised assistance with tuition and some living expenses, but we still need help.  In order to make donations easy, I have set up a couple of online gifting methods: a GoFundMe page and a PayPal link.  You can also email me for my physical address if you prefer to write a check.

With all of the theological studies and ideas bouncing around in my head, I am sure I will have plenty of inspiration for blogs.  The primary challenge will be finding time to jot those ideas down in a format that keeps with the current tone of my blog and doesn’t feel too academic.

Please pray for me and my wife (Jeremiah and Theophania) as we embark on this great adventure.  I will also continue to keep you, my readers, in my prayers.

Glory to God for all things!

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, Continue reading Theology without the Lines

The Shipwreck and the Silence

To what then shall I liken our present condition?  It may be compared, I think, to a naval battle, fought by men who cherish a deadly hate against one another, of long experience in naval warfare, and eager for the fight.

Do you see the rival fleets rushing in dread array to the attack?  With a burst of uncontrollable fury they engage and fight it out.  Fancy, if you like, the ships driven to and fro by a raging tempest, while thick darkness falls from the clouds and blackens all the scenes so that watchwords are indistinguishable in the confusion, and all distinction between friend and foe is lost.

To fill up the details of the imaginary picture, suppose the sea swollen with billows and whirled up from the deep, while a vehement torrent of rain pours down from the clouds and the terrible waves rise high.  From every quarter of heaven the winds beat upon one point, where both the fleets are dashed one against the other.

Of the combatants some are turning traitors; some are deserting in the very thick of the fight; some have at one and the same moment to urge on their boats, all beaten by the gale, and to advance against their assailants.  Jealousy of authority and the lust of individual mastery splits the sailors into parties which deal mutual death to one another.

To make matters worse, Continue reading The Shipwreck and the Silence