People really like Hell. Or at least they really like the idea of Hell. And many are positively gleeful at the notion of some or another of their fellow human beings being tormented forever in its fiery furnaces (that’s right, forever, for eternity, for an expanse of time the human mind cannot fully comprehend). Oddly enough, it is clear that, pious professions aside, even eternal damnation’s most ardent supporters do not believe themselves in line for torments everlasting.
I suppose I always knew this. I grew up in Colorado before Colorado was cool, in a time when the state’s political and cultural life was dominated by Focus on the Family and evangelical megachurches. And I have known plenty of people who believe that unless you are “born again” in a rather specific way, you are damned for all time. None of these people, to be clear, believed that the Orthodox baptism I received as an infant was of any effect and feared (one cannot help but believe honestly) for the state of my immortal soul. And let’s not kid ourselves. Though we Orthodox, in general, might take a slightly less legalistic approach to the question of salvation and damnation, the immense popularity of the idea of aerial toll houses over the past few decades gives proof to the fact that we are just as morbidly obsessed with God’s impending judgement and wrath as your run-of-the-mill televangelist.
Before I go any further, let me say, I know the arguments for “closed communion,” that is, the practice of allowing only Orthodox Christians who have prepared through confession and fasting and have received the blessing of a spiritual father to receive the Eucharist. I am also aware that how this exactly plays out from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, from parish to parish, varies widely. Finally, please trust me, if you get nothing else from reading this, rest assured that I have exactly the kind of personality that is predisposed to wanting to turn the Eucharist into an opportunity to sort out the worthy and the unworthy, the good and the bad. I am all about making participation in a meal the reward for being “enough.” For believing the right things and doing the right things. I am insanely comfortable with the idea that not eating, not partaking, is a way to repentance and to purification. For years, through most of my teens and into my early twenties (and occasionally my late twenties and early thirties, and frankly, occasionally now), as I struggled with an eating disorder that was my best thinking. It was my big idea. The big idea that consumed my thoughts day and night, that robbed me of any joy, that only caused me pain. The big idea that could have killed me. And it is exactly because I know what a terrible idea it was for me to have that I cannot believe that it was ever God’s idea. In fact, there is much in the Scripture and the Fathers to suggest that even Judas got to have the meal, got to come to the table, so different is God’s idea about who gets to eat from mine. It is by looking at whom the gospel writers tell us dined with the Lord that I draw my assumptions as to how God intends to issue invitations to His banquet. Continue reading →
Yiayia Kay kept her scarves in the far upper right hand corner of the long light oak dresser. By the time I was old enough to remember, she never took them out except to garden. She would drape one of the silk covers over her perfectly coiffed hair to protect it against the dry winds of the Colorado high plains. As a little girl and even into her teens and early married life, these had been more than mere gardening accoutrements. They were the outward visible witness of her inner self, signaling to the world, not just that she was a Christian, but that she was a lady, modest and chaste. Then one day, around the time television became king, like so many Greek American women of her generation, she folded up the scarves and put them in the dresser.
The fact is that for most of my childhood in the urban, assimilated Greek Orthodox parish where I grew up, the head covering was completely absent. Continue Reading…
This is not an essay 1) advocating sex work or 2) denying the need for repentance. This is an essay asking us to reconsider how we treat sex workers.
If there is one thing that even the most theologically illiterate can accurately remember about the life of Christ, it is that he hung around with a questionable crowd: tax collectors, zealots (the ideological equivalent of fundamentalist terrorists in 1st-century Palestine), prostitutes. This was no small thing for a pious Jewish man in 1st-century Palestine. Pious Jewish men did not spend any social time with sinners. It was among the first things that roused the Pharisees suspicions: “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them that “it is not the healthy who need a physician.” God does not come to the holy when they are ready, as most supposed in the ancient world. He comes to those who need Him wherever they are, in whatever state. It was a radical, revolutionary idea then and it still is now. Continue reading →