One of the obvious differences between the Orthodox and Western understanding of marriage is that in the West, marriage is what two people do, while in the East, it is something that is done to them. This difference is expressed in the wedding service. In the West, the two people give a set of vows, thus entering into a contract with each other. In the Orthodox service, no vows are exchanged; after the initial inquiry as to whether they want to be married to each other (more on that later), they say absolutely nothing. They also do nothing: something is done to them–crowns are placed on their heads, they are led by the priest around the gospel stand, the common cup is given to them, even their wedding rings are placed on their fingers by other people. Whatever the historical development of the Orthodox rite may have been, its form points to the belief in the sacramental nature of marriage. In this way, the rite of marriage similar to the Eucharist. One does not produce the Body and Blood of Christ the way that one would negotiate and produce a contract. All of the actions of the priest and the congregation are not aimed at the production of the Gifts, but at preparing their own hearts and souls for receiving the sacrament. (more…)
All too often, a priest acts as if he were a secular leader, a board president, a CEO of a non-profit, a manager of an organization. To be sure, priests do hold a position of authority in the Church. But what kind of authority is it? What kind of headship? I really like the Roman Bishop’s official title: “the servant of the servants of God.” Regardless of how it is realized in the life of any particular pontiff, the title itself is very much Christ-centric and conveys the correct idea: a priest or a bishop receives his authority from Christ, and it is His, Christ’s, authority, not the priest’s. So, in order to find out how a priest is to exercise his authority, we must look at how Christ exercised His authority and learn from His example. (more…)
As many of you have already figured out, the way my brain works is that in order to make sense of something, I have to paint a picture. Once I was asked to speak on prayer at a symposium. Here is the picture that I made up for myself.
First, I decided to figure out what prayer is not. It is not a conversation with God. If someone called me on the phone every morning and every evening and read the same text every single time without pausing to see whether I have anything to say, I would not call that a conversation. I would call that the weirdest thing that ever happened to me. Furthermore, prayer is not meant to tell God how we are doing or what our needs are (e.g., “God, I have cancer/need healing/my son is out late, please keep him safe, etc.”). If God knows everything–and this is the kind of God in whom we believe–then He does not need us to tell Him what our needs are. So, if prayer is not meant as a dialogue, nor is it meant to convey any information, what is it? (more…)
Nowadays, children get baptized for any number of reasons: because their family is Russian (Ukrainian/Greek/Serbian, etc.), because it is what they have “always done,” because the grandmother insists, because the parents want the child to be able to take communion or to go to Sunday school, or for any number of other reasons. But the Apostle Paul says that baptism is a manifestation of Christ’s death in our lives (Rom. 6:3)–no, no, not a symbol of His death, not a theatrical re-enactment, not a remembrance, but the “making-real,” the “making-present” of His death. Paul says that the baptized “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27)–but what kind of Christ? The one who was tortured. The One who was crucified. The One who died. The One whose wounds did not heal even in His glorious resurrection (Luke 24:39). (more…)