Five Interesting Points from The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis

“An explanation of what happens to you when you die” is sort of the lazy man’s answer to the question of “What is the purpose of religion?” This is true, but it is only a part of it.

The question of what happens after death has enthralled, and indeed scared the hell out, of human beings since we first became aware, unique to all other creatures, that we will, in fact, die at some point, and that this death is inevitable.

This is what author and theologian Nikolaos P. Vassilidis attempts to shed some light on in The Mystery of Death, at least from an Orthodox Christian perspective. Published in Greek in 1993 and later translated by Father Peter A. Chamberas, Vassilidis, a member of the Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians has taken Scripture and the teachings of the Holy Fathers and compiled them in a lengthy tomb big on what Scripture and logical analysis tells us and light on speculation.

It’s heavy reading, as you can imagine.

Religion, most religions at least, deal with more than just what happens when you die. But questions surrounding the end of life are obviously incredibly important, questions such as:

  • Why do human beings know they will die?
  • Why do we die?
  • Why are we here if we’re destined to die?
  • And of course, what happens next?

Vassiliadis relies heavily on the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St. Symeon, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Nikodemos, and other luminaries of the pre-Schism Church, as well as more recent Orthodox scholars like Georges Florovsky and Justin Popovic. It’s a well-researched book that offered a lot of eye-opening revelations about what death is, why we die, sin and repentance, and what comes after.

It’s tough to do a typical review of this book other than to say I highly recommend it to any Christian, Orthodox or not (although Catholics will probably have an easier time with it than most other denominations). So as with my discussion of Moses Maimonides’s The Guide for the Perplexed, I think it’d be more useful to go over a few of the more interesting points Vassiliadis makes:

Continue reading “Five Interesting Points from The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis”

The Spirit of 1821: Greek Independence Day and the Annunciation

greek-independence

Zito! 

March 25th is Greek Independence Day, commemorating the beginning of the Greek rebellion in 1821 against their Ottoman oppressors after four-hundred years of subjugation. The revolution began, according to legend, when Bishiop Germanos raised the Greek flag at the Peloponnesian monastery of Agia Lavra.

revolution

Badass.

Whatever the inciting incident, the revolution attracted the attention and aid of many European powers, particularly Great Britain, who felt a kinship with the Greeks for their thousand-year cultural legacy of philosophy, government, and all of the other gifts of Western Civilization.

Oh yeah. The United States got in on the act too. Our fifth president and Founding Father James Monroe stated to Congress that:

“A strong hope is entertained that these people will recover their independence and assume their equal statue among the nations of the earth.”

Of course, Monroe and his famous, eponymous doctrine (largely the creation of then-Secretary of State and later sixth president John Quincy Adams) committed the United States to not getting involved in European affairs (while resisting any European incursion into the Americas), but the rhetorical support remained, and indeed bolstered the spirit of the Greeks.

It’s a beautiful circle. The Greeks were inspired by the Americans, who were partially inspired by Greek philosophy and ideals as they revolted against England and created the United States system of government (and the architecture in Washington, D.C.).

I mean, listen to the slogan of the Greek revolutionaries: Eλευθερία ή θάνατος! Freedom or death! Sounds familiar, right?

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Being both Greek and American, it’s always exhilarating to think that, in my own small way, I’m heir to two strong and vital cultural legacies.

But the interesting thing is that March 25 is also the Annunciation, the celebration of the Archangel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Christ. This is no coincidence.  Continue reading “The Spirit of 1821: Greek Independence Day and the Annunciation”

Recapturing the Awe

Lent is here. It’s a big deal to the faithful, the biggest deal of all.

Fasting. Prayer. I don’t think I need to get into what Lent is. How about we chat about what Lent isn’t?

Lent is not suffering for suffering’s sake.The purpose of fasting for 40 days (Eastern tradition) or giving something up for 40 days (Western) isn’t to make you miserable. It’s to provide focus and clarity.

The Resurrection is the central tenet of Christianity. If it were false, if it never happened, all would be, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in vain:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

–1 Corinthians 15:12-18

So yes, Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection, is a big deal. Millions, like St. Paul himself, have died for it. This is why the Lenten period is so important. Continue reading “Recapturing the Awe”

The Organized Religion Boogeyman

Is it the “organized” part of “organized religion” everyone claims to dislike, or the “religion” part?

This is a question I’ve long pondered. It sticks with me because of the idea that something so complex as salvation and the eternal fate of one’s immortal soul is a wee bit more complex than other things we crave guidance and instruction on.

  • Want to get your house painted? Well, only licensed, approved contractors will do.
  • I’m sending my kid’s to school. Are these teachers degreed?
  • I’d really like a haircut. Did the Department of Professional Licensure say they’re legit?
  • I’m going to interpret ancient Hebrew texts and try to discern the word of the Lord. Meh. I don’t need any help. I’ll just do it myself.

If this doesn’t seem weird to you, then I guess you have full faith and confidence in your ability to comprehend everything and anything.

The rest of us, not so much.

Let’s look at each part of this “organized religion” conundrum. Continue reading “The Organized Religion Boogeyman”

I Am Bad At Praying

Praying woman

Meditation, “mindfulness,” solitude . . . whatever you want to call it it’s good to be alone sometimes. For me, I like to pray.

Except, and here’s the thing: I’m pretty bad at it.

I don’t mean the actual act of prayer. I mean at being able to focus.

You know how it is trying to shut your mind off? Even in pre-Internet days, human beings had a lot going on in our heads. Now, with all of the gadgets and distractions literally rewiring our brains, it’s impossible, isn’t it?

It sure feels that way to me.

God doesn’t lay out strict methods of prayer that have to be followed or else. That’s not how He works. In fact, Jesus Christ himself tells his disciples that when they pray, to pray what is now known as The Lord’s Prayer.

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Seems simple enough, right?

Not so much. You see, prayer isn’t about asking God for stuff and hoping you hit the celestial lottery. There is no magic combination of words that will make Him favor you. No, you need focus, a clear mind, and a desire to listen to what you’re supposed to be doing.

There is no magic length, no special formula, no words that need to be repeated in the exact same way at the exact same time ad nauseum, no proper posture or orientation. And it’s better to do some praying, even abbreviated, than none. But I wish I had the patience of the great ascetics of history.

Meteora monastery in central Greece.

No matter who you are or what you believe, the world can be a nasty, brutal, and tiring place. Time spent alone with self is different than time spent in the blue glow of an electronic device. Time spent communicating with the Divine and just listening is truly sacred.

Because listening is hard.

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Ask A Christian, Part IV: God in the Hands of Angry Sinners

hand-of-god

Do you want to know what’s even more offensive than outright blasphemy?

People putting their own words, thoughts, and beliefs into the mouth of Jesus Christ–the son of God Himself–usually to score some some stupid political point .

This tends to occur when the discussion turns to taxation or government spending on things like welfare, or tax cuts, or other policies like open borders and immigration.

And since you asked, here’s why this boils my blood: Most of the people making these claims hate God, religion, and Christians in particular.

To all of these people, I give a hearty and sincere one-fingerd salute.

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And I don’t mean this finger.

As Christians, we are warned about false prophets.

Don’t misunderstand me: There are Christians on all side who like to pretend that Jesus is on their side, especially when it comes to their own politics and personal predilections. And they all drive me up a tree, thank you for asking.

But Jesus minced no words when it came to this:

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

Matthew 7:15-17

The book of Revelations also describes the two-headed beast that is the Antichrist and the False Prophet:

11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.

12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.

13 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,

14 And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.

15 And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

Revelation 13:11-15

There is more in the Bible, of course, but as you can see, misattributing things to Jesus Christ is a seriously bad thing.

Hey, for all you know, I’m a false prophet. Don’t listen to me. I’m just some yahoo with a blog. But I’m also not trying to claim I speak for the Lord! Like billions of us now and before, I’m just trying to understand and live His word as best I can.

As discussed in a previous installment of Ask A Christian, many of these examples involve one trying to wield God as a weapon yet clearly not understanding the context of the verse they are trying to weaponize. Yes, unlike a certain other so-called Abrahamic religion that is in the news a lot lately, the context in the Bible tends to make the Bible look better. Imagine that!

So here are some of the worst arguments that cause my blood pressure to spike every time I see some joker in the media parrot them. For the faithful among you, you have been warned: the annoyance-dial is about to get cranked to 11. Continue reading “Ask A Christian, Part IV: God in the Hands of Angry Sinners”

Book Reviews: Who’s Afraid of the Dark? and Knight of the Changeling by Russell Newquist

I’ve got a two-fer of tales for you today from Mr. Russell Newquist, he of Silver Empire publishing, and an author in his own right. If you recall, I recently reviewed his fun, action-packed debut novel War Demons.

War Demons featured a supporting character named Peter Bishop, friend of that novel’s main character Michael Alexander. Well, it turns out that Peter is heir to the sword of St. Michael and a pretty important player in the struggle to protect Earth from the demonic forces of evil.

Who’s Afraid of the Dark?and Knight of the Changelingare two short stories in Russell’s saga, and take place after the Prodigal Son series, of which War Demons is the first book. Yet these two stories were published first.

Don’t worry, it works. Continue reading “Book Reviews: Who’s Afraid of the Dark? and Knight of the Changeling by Russell Newquist”