I am a Roman Catholic who loves Orthodoxy. In addition to the historical figures of Orthodoxy, more recent Orthodox Christians have had a profound influence on me.
Orthodox clergy including His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop Elpidophoros, and Metropolitan Anthony Bloom have fed my spirit. Mother Maria of Paris, Saint Sophrony, and the countless faithful persecuted under Soviet regimes are among the Orthodox saints, mystics, and martyrs who inspire me to live holier and more faithfully to the gospel.
Orthodox scholars such as Kallistos Ware, John McGuckin, John Behr, and John Chryssavgis challenge my intellect. Orthodox media ranging from Ancient Faith Radio to Public Orthodoxy to Byzantium and Friends accompany me, while musicians rooted in Orthodoxy (like Cappella Romana and the Men’s Choir of the Valaam Singing Culture Institute) enrich my inner life.
For the better part of a decade, I lived in Mansfield, Ohio. As a rust belt city, Mansfield had to reinvent its economy following its deindustrialization. The town of old factories pinned its hopes of revitalization on tourism.
The crown jewel of Mansfield’s tourist economy is the old Ohio State Reformatory. The Reformatory housed prisoners from 1896-1990. Known for its haunting architecture and the violence suffered by the inmates, today the Reformatory hosts tours, welcomes ghost hunting expeditions, and serves as a set for films like The Shawshank Redemption. When the Reformatory closed, the new Richland Correctional Institution opened less than three miles away. The RCI housed Ohio’s male death row inmates until 2005. Living near facilities associated with the violence of killing led me to reflect on capital punishment in practice and in scripture, especially the execution of John the Baptist.
The facts of John’s case are familiar. John was arrested for criticizing the adulterous relationship of Tetrarch Herod Antipas and his sister-in-law Herodias. The Gospel according to Matthew says that Antipas had imprisoned John and wanted to kill him. Antipas, however, feared public opinion. This alone indicates the arbitrary nature of capital punishment. His fear of the crowds prevented him from taking John’s life. If Antipas had been bolder or if John had not been so popular, the tetrarch might have summarily executed the Baptist without a second thought. Instead, he jailed the Baptist. While John languished in the dungeon, Antipas threw a party. Continue Reading…