My Conversion Story

People have asked me for my “Easter conversion story” before, and since today is Holy Wednesday*, it seems like as good a time as any to talk about this.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe you’ll find it interesting. Or inspiring. Or crazy. I’m sure some “rational skeptic” will tell me it’s a “chemical phenomena akin to insanity that shouldn’t be viewed as proving anything other than the delusion-holder’s personal subjective experience,” and so on.

(Boy, wait until I tell the story about when I had an honest-to-God prophetic vision . . .)

Whatever. All I know is what I’ve experienced and you can take it or leave it. The important starting point for this particular story is that, from the ages of about fifteen to seventeen, I was an atheist.

Or thought I was. Things changed on Good Friday when I was 17.

Let’s back up a little bit though. I grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church. Both of my parents are 100% Greek with either parents or grandparents from the old country. On my mother’s side, my grandfather is a priest, and so was his father. There were more in the family, but I don’t know how far back it goes.

My experiences with the church were generally positive. I rather enjoyed seeing my pappou up there doing the service and giving communion, and we always went out to breakfast afterwards. Orthodoxy focus a lot on the mystical, the afterlife, the resurrection, and the love of Christ . . . as well as the wages of sin. This didn’t bother me, nor was it prohibitively frightening. In fact, it made sense: Disobeying your own parents and ignoring tradition and common sense lead to big trouble. Why wouldn’t ignoring your heavenly Father lead to the same?

And the fact that there was a Creator didn’t bother me at all either. Everything has to come from something, I thought. And even to this day, “Everything spontaneously came into being in perfect order for no reason and with no cause whatsoever” remains an unsatisfying leap of faith to make.

No, what first got me as I got older was the idea of the Resurrection.

I remember on my way to church with the family when I was 14. It might have been Easter; I can’t remember. What I do remember is expressing skepticism that Jesus Christ really rose from the dead. “I get all the other stuff,” I said, “but how do we know he didn’t just die?”

My family didn’t quite know how to answer. Continue reading “My Conversion Story”

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”

Life Matters: Merry Christmas!

Everyone: Merry Christmas!

Even if Christianity isn’t your thing, have a wonderful holiday season with your friends and family.

Christmas and New Year’s are about new beginnings. As my priest said last night, we are all born with a hole in our heart. On Christmas we celebrate the coming of the one who can fill that hole.

I was feeling cranky for various reasons the last few days, a bit out of sort. But you know what? It’s nothing. It doesn’t matter. Life matters.

That’s what Christmas is all about. Just like Easter, this season is brimming with the joy of life…

…God Almighty coming to Earth, carried by a young virgin who will come to be known as the Panagia–All Holy–and the Theotokos–God-bearer.

Christmas is as much about her, the bearer of life, bringing God into the world for us and for our salvation.

I dunno…it’s beautiful, at least to me. Is it getting dusty in here? Where’s my handkerchief…

Merry Christmas everyone!

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and Gab.ai @DaytimeRenegade

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And check out my Instagram here.

Book Review: Vigil by Russell Newquist

If pious, globe-trotting, gun-wielding demon-hunters aren’t your thing, this review won’t mean anything to you. But if the are, I think you’re going to enjoy Vigil.

Vigil by Russell Newquist continues the tale he began in War Demonsalthough is more of a side story than a direct sequel. Michael Alexander, the hero of the previous book, is nowhere to be found. Instead Vigil features Peter Bishop, the bearer of the sword of St. Michael, and his demon-hunting friends in pursuit of the dragon that terrorized Athens, Georgia in War Demons. This dragon absconded with Peter’s girlfriend Faith. Or at least the girl Peter wouldn’t mind being his girlfriend.

Tracking the dragon to a small village France, Peter and his friends discover that the church in town covers dark, ancient secrets. And I don’t mean the kind of dirty laundry that tends to pile up in small towns. I mean actual, literal dark and ancient secrets that threaten more than just the down. While Faith tries to keep her head in the dragon’s layer, Peter and his comrades fight a desperate battle while under siege in the church during the traditional Catholic Easter vigil. Unfortunately, the church’s old priest is not quite as Godly as one would hope, and threatens to sabotage the whole operation . . .

Author Russell Newquist
Russell Newquist

Yes, as in War Demons, Christianity plays a central part in Vigil‘s story. And like in that book, as well as the other Tales of Peter Bishop short stories, Russell is able to pull this off because the religious elements are a part of the story, and the book is not preachy.

And you know what? I see what Russell is trying to do here, or at least I think I do. And I approve: Continue reading “Book Review: Vigil by Russell Newquist”

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.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and Gab.ai @DaytimeRenegade

My YouTube channel is here.

And check out my Instagram here.