I'll Come Speak

    I write and speak on all sorts of topics: ancient Christian spirituality and the Eastern Orthodox faith, the Jesus Prayer, marriage and family, the pro-life cause, cultural issues, and more. You can contact Cynthia Damaskos of the Orthodox Speakers Bureau if you’d like to bring me to an event. This Calendar will let you know when I’m in your neighborhood.

 

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Tuesday
Jul112017

The Good Samaritan, by Patriarch Narses Snorhali

The Good Samaritan

Written by Armenian Patriarch Narses Snorhali (1102-1173).

From Jerusalem, our Paradise, guilty like Adam
I went down to vile Jericho,
And fell into the hands of the Brigand.

They stripped me of light;
They covered my soul with sores of sin;
They did not depart leaving me half dead;
But after death, the waged war on me again.

And Moses the Levite and Aaron the ancient Priest…
And the prophets of the Old Law
Saw the sores of my incurable sufferings,
And the terrible wounds.

They passed with medicine of words only
And could not heal them,
To You whom they called “Samaritan”
I will show the sufferings of my soul
To your divine eyes which sees them.

Have pity on me also as You had pity on Adam,
Put medicine on the deep wounds of my soul,
Re-cover it with the first robe
Of which the brigands stripped me.

Pour on oil and wine,
The medicine of life from the Spirit on high,
Giving again the Spirit of anointing
And the cup of the New Covenant.

Carry me, convey me on the mount of the Cross;
Lead me away to the Inn, to the Church;
Entrust me to the High Priest
Who in sacrifice offers your Body.

Give instead of two pennies
The Word of the Old and New Testament,
To heal my soul through it
As the body will live through bread.

Tuesday
May162017

The Benedict Option and Retreating from Politics

I haven’t done much writing about “The Benedict Option” by my friend Rod Dreher, but this image gave me some things to think about. It’s the cover of the French edition of “The Benedict Option,” which comes out in September, and it’s better than the original cover, isn’t it? It expresses the central concept better than the original cover did, though that is admittedly a beautiful photo. The original cover shows Mt St Michel, literally a monastery on a hill, so is it any wonder people think that’s what the book is about?

 

I will go out on a limb and say what I think Rod would say, about this persistent mis-impression that he is exhorting people to “head for the hills.” I think the confusion has to do with the idea of “withdrawing from the political arena” (or however it’s phrased).

If you are directly involved in politics, Rod is not advising you to stop. If you hold office, or are running for office, or supporting people in office, if you are professionally involved in politics in any way, Rod is not trying to stop you.

He’s noting instead that for the vast majority of Christians in America, politics is a spectator sport. We follow it and talk about it, but are not professionally involved. We assume that everything that’s important happens in the political arena, so we keep focused on it.

I think what Rod wants to say is that what’s wrong with our culture cannot be solved by politics. In terms of the social, cultural, and moral issues, popular opinion has been marching steadily to the left for fifty years. The vast majority of Americans actually likes those changes in morality. They like the freedom to do whatever they want. There is no conservative majority to energize, on the social issues, because the majority wants things just as they are, or more so.

So, even though we sometimes achieve political victories, even the presidency, we never make any progress on those issues. Those who are called to politics must keep at it, but the rest of us need to realize that they aren’t going to be able to stop a momentum that has the majority of public opinion behind it. We live in a democracy, and we’re going to have the kind of culture most people want.

But while we’ve been setting all our hopes on political victory, we’ve permitted the tide of secular culture to flow freely into our homes and families. Surveys show that today’s Christians are mostly ignorant of the core beliefs of their faith. In terms of moral standards, their behavior matches that of those in the world around them, rather than that held through Christian history. Christian marriages fail about as often as secular marriages do. In terms of the moral issues, Christians have become indistinguishable from the non-Christian population, probably because we actually agree with the majority, and prefer to do whatever we want.

Christianity is not matched up against atheism today, or even paganism, but against an easy, shallow, amiable public religion. It holds that God wants us to be nice to each other, and call on him in times of trouble; otherwise, he just wants us to be happy. (This is has been called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” or MTD.)

Real Christianity isn’t like that; it’s challenging, even difficult. Churches have found it a hard sell. They offer instead an affirming, sympathetic, entertaining version of Christian faith, pitched in the tones of clever advertisements. Worship is not focused on God but on the worshiper; the goal is giving the worshiper a good worship experience.

Regardless of the style it takes—contemporary, trendy-ancient, social-justice, etc—anxiety to please the consumer is itself detrimental to faith. Perpetuating the consumer’s expectation that he will be catered to is detrimental to faith. Because real Christianity means taking up your cross (Matthew 16:24).

So the Benedict Option is not about withdrawing from the public square. Those whom God has called to the public square had better stay there. Instead, it’s a call to recognize that politics cannot solve the problems that confront us. We have to let that fantasy go.

The Benedict Option is a call to recognize that, while we’ve been keeping our binoculars trained on politics, all this time the sweet, seductive, please-yourself culture has been seeping in under the door. It is saturating our minds and those of our children; it is training us to think of ourselves as primarily consumers, vigilantly monitoring our right to be pleased.

The Benedict Option is a call to resist this. It’s a call to “wake up and strengthen the things that remain” (Revelation 3:2). This is going to be unglamorous and demanding, a family-by-family, church-by-church recomittment to the difficult life in Christ, which entails taking up your cross. We are going to need each others’ support. It’s not going to be easy, but the hour is already late, so let’s get started.

 

Tuesday
Feb212017

How to Revive a "Dead" Church

Here’s something I hear from time to time: “I’d like to join the Orthodox Church, but I visited a local church and it just felt dead.”

When I hear this it’s about Orthodox churches, but that needn’t be the case. It could be any church or denomination; it might sound good on paper, but the local church on Sunday morning feels empty and drained.

It’s tempting to say, “That shouldn’t make any difference. Focus on your own prayer life.” But, actually, I know what these people mean. Sometimes, when you visit a church, something just feels “off.” It makes you really eager to get out of there.

 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Feb162017

Why It's Hard to Accept God's Forgiveness

My daughter-in-law, Khouria Jocelyn Mathewes, has a good column today on repentance, as we head into Great Lent. She makes a point about accepting forgiveness for past sins (not the ones that continue in the present, but completed deeds in the past.) She reminds us that we must accept forgiveness and move on, and not keep revisiting them and “beating yourself up.”

I think that, when we continue to be distraught over a forgiven sin in the past, it’s linked to our pride. It’s that we can’t believe we would ever do such a thing. It doesn’t fit our sense of the “kind of person” we are. So we can never quite assimilate it; we keep being startled by it, and regard it as strange and appalling. We think of it as something inexplicable that “happened,” rather than something we did.

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Saturday
Jan282017

We Call Ourselves "Pro-Life"

Here is why abortion is the most important justice issue of our time.

1. It is wrong to discriminate, and worse to persecute, still worse to imprison, even worse to torture, and worst of all to kill.

Abortion kills.

2. It is wrong to kill violent adults, if they can be stopped any other way. It is worse to kill non-violent adults. It is even worse to kill children.

Abortion kills children.

3. In 2011, there were 908 child fatalities from car accidents. There weere 1620 child fatalities from abuse and neglect. And there were 1,058,490 child fatalities from abortion.

Abortion kills children in overwhelming numbers.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan252017

The Unborn Person

In the Roe v Wade decision, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that, if the fetus is a person, the right to abortion collapses. (Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113 [1973] Section IX.)

How can we tell whether it is a person or not?

Here’s what science shows. From the beginning, the unborn is:

1. Alive. It is living and growing, always increasing in size and complexity.

2. Human. Its body is composed entirely of human cells.

3. Individual. It has unique DNA. If a cell from the mother, the father, and the unborn child were examined side by side, it would reveal that they came from three different people.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jan242017

Old Age and Illness

[January 24, 2017]

I was just writing to a friend who’s had a hard diagnosis:
When I was young I noticed how all older people have something physical to complain about, sometimes something very serious. Each one had a body part that was failing faster than the rest. A part that had been set, like a clock, to be the first to give way. And we don’t know what they are, when we’re younger. We carry them around unknowing, while the clock steadily circles around to the time they are set to bloom forth—“booby traps” that we don’t know about and can’t anticipate, but every day get closer to being activated.
George Gilder had a memorable line in “Men and Marriage,” about how a young man who has pursued only pleasure begins to realize that he is aging: “His body, which once measured out his few advantages over females, is beginning to intimate its terrible plan to become as weak as an older woman’s.”
It is so easy, when we’re young, to think, “Of course he / she is sick, feeble, deaf, dying—he / she is old.” As if that made it reasonable. It is never reasonable, when it’s us.
It seems God deliberately saves up a lot of suffering for the end of life—loss of health, loss of strength, loss of loved ones, loss of mind. For some people, these wounds are no doubt God’s final attempt to get their attention.
All we can do is pray. And commiserate; however weak we become, we can still give each other the gift of listening. Old age and illness teach us new lessons we would not otherwise learn. Flannery O’Connor wrote:
“In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing, and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.”
These lessons are surely planned by God to teach exactly what we need to learn. They arrive when we don’t have much time to use the wisdom we might gain. Surely tWe can at least be watchful, to quickly recognize the lessons that are being sent to us, and put them into practice. Instead falling into panic or despair, we can recognize the the beginning of a process of stripping-away that will sooner or later strip away everything, including breath. And replace it with life.

Monday
Nov072016

A Litany to St. Michael

Chief Captain of the Angels,

pray for us

Angel of fiery appearance,

pray for us

Angel of miraculous beauty,

pray for us

First-formed star of the world,

pray for us

Traverser of Creation,

pray for us

Fulfiller of the Creator’s commands,

pray for us

Mighty and powerful,

pray for us

Minister, spirit, and flaming fire,

pray for us

Leader of the thrice-holy hymn,

pray for us

Greatest of Archangels,

pray for us

Click to read more ...

Friday
Nov042016

He asked "Am I autistic?"

A young man sent me an email saying that he was wondering whether he was autistic, and wether he should get himself evaluated by a doctor. I asked an autistic young man I knew to reply.

*****

I’m a thirty-year-old man, Orthodox since infancy, diagnosed with Aspergers before age ten.  I’ve been married for four years, and have a young child.  I haven’t been all that professionally successful myself, for various reasons which can be summarized as “grew up lazy and got a useless degree.”  I should note that I have a very mild form of Asperger’s (I can pass for an extrovert), and every case is different anyway, so not everything I say will necessarily apply.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep142016

Faces

Dr. Denis Mukwege is a doctor in Congo, where there is an epidemic of, a craze for, rape. All ages, all across the culture, there is a war of males against females. Dr. Mukwege tries to repair the damage done to little girls. Think twice before reading the article, because it’s heartbreaking.

 

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