Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Real St. Nicholas

On Christmas day, a new motion picture trailer for the upcoming movie on St. Nicholas of Myra (the "real Santa Claus") was released. Watch the trailer (small, medium, or large format) on the St. Nicholas of Myra movie website.

For information on the life of St. Nicholas, visit the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America or Orthodoxwiki.

(The photo is in the public domain.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

To find out about the place where Christ was born, read In a Bethlehem Cave.

Go to the Greek Archdiocese or Antiochian Archdiocese websites to learn about the meaning of the icon of the Holy Nativity.

You may listen to Frederica Mathewes-Green read the Kontakion of the Nativity or read selections from ancient sermons for yourself. (These resources and others are found at the Antiochian Archdiocese website). You may also read St. Ephrem the Syrian's Hymns on the Nativity. All of these texts express the true meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Orthodox Study Bible

The complete Orthodox Study Bible is set for release this February (2008). Visit the Orthodox Study Bible website for information on the project, articles, features, and sample pages.

Significant features of the Orthodox Study Bible include a translation of the Septuagint, the version of the Old Testament used by the early Church, and commentary from the ancient Fathers of the Church. The notes in the OSB help the reader understand the Scriptural text in the proper context of the ancient Church who wrote, compiled, and has preserved the Holy Scripture.

To hear about the significance of the Orthodox Study Bible, listen to a great interview on Ancient Faith Radio.

The Orthodox Study Bible can be pre-ordered from the OSB site or from A flier on the OSB with order information is also available.

(The photo has been taken from the Conciliar Press website.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

An Atheist on Secular Humanism & Art

In a recent article on, entitled "Dogma Days," Camille Paglia, an atheist, wrote,
"In my lecture on religion and the arts in America earlier this year at Colorado College, I argued that secular humanism has failed, that the avant-garde is dead, and that liberals must start acknowledging the impoverished culture that my 1960s generation has left to the young. Atheism alone is a rotting corpse. I substitute art and nature for God -- the grandeur of man and the vast mystery of the universe."

Ms. Paglia sees the effects of secular humanism on our culture. Unfortunately, substituting art and the created cosmos for the Creator isn't an adequate response to the problems of either false religion or secular humanism. I'm reminded of a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon:

For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. Yet these people are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him. For while they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful. Yet again, not even they are to be excused; for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things? (13.7-9, NRSV)

The secular humanism in our culture that has called for the removal of religion from public life and public education has failed, but the antidote to this failure is not to embrace all religions as though they are equally true and valuable. While we can acknowledge a seed of truth in other religions, we can only experience the depth of Beauty, discover the reality to which art and nature point, and embody the fullness of human meaning and purpose by embracing the One who made all things and by following the path He has laid before us. This is the God and the way of life revealed to us in the Holy Icons.

Camille Paglia makes some interesting observations worth considering from an Orthodox perspective. (Also check out her article on "Religion and Arts in America," published in Arion: A Journal of the Humanities and the Classics.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Parents, Children, and the Environment

"Meet the women who won't have babies - because they're not eco friendly," reads a headline in the UK's Daily Mail. This article shows how warped the secular understanding of the world can be and its tragic effect on human life.

Memorable quotes include:

“Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet."

"Every person who is born uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases, and adds to the problem of over-population."

"I realised then that a baby would pollute the planet - and that never having a child was the most environmentally friendly thing I could do."

The views in the article show a significant misunderstanding about what it means to be human. By living the Orthodox way of life we know (experiential knowledge, not just intellectual knowledge) the nature of the creation and our place within it. As human beings we are part of the creation, the cosmic ecosystem, but we are not just a part of it, we are the center of it. This doesn't mean that the world is here for us to destroy. Instead, we were intended to be its benevolent caretakers, knowing the true significance of each aspect of creation and using everything according to its purpose for good. To live according to our calling is to be a true spiritual environmentalist, motivated by love. Secular environmentalists encourage actions, like the individual recycling of trash or national reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, to improve the environment. We know, however, that the way to transfigure the creation around us begins with the purification of the inner heart. (Inner purity produces outer action.)

As we dragged the world down with us through our Fall, we participate in the renewal of creation through our own participation in God, who fills all creation and in whom the whole universe is contained. This personal and cosmic renewal requires one to do something many environmentalists are unwilling to do: repent. Repentence means personally turning away from self-centeredness, self-justification, and confusion to embrace the living Creator God Himself. Self-confident spiritual ignorance mixed with delusional pride can result in chaos and death, spiritual death and, as the article makes clear, even the death of an innocent, unborn child.

I wish all those influenced by secular ideologies would take the time to know the truth revealed in the icon of the Holy Nativity: The One through whom all things came into being humbly lays as a newborn infant in the feeding trough of animals within an earthy cave. Next to Him is His mother, an image of perfect faith and selfless love, who is honored above all other people and even above the angelic Cherubim and Seraphim. If the men and women of secular culture knew this woman and, most importantly, her Son, their perspectives on family, children, and the world would be dramatically altered and their lives would be radically transformed.

After you read the original article, check out this response on the Philadelphia Inquirer website (Nov. 29, 2007).

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Human Trafficking & Slavery

I recently found the website of Shared Hope International:

"Shared Hope International exists to rescue and restore women and children in crisis. We are leaders in a worldwide effort to prevent and eradicate sex trafficking and slavery through education and public awareness."

The information on the website, including the online documentary, reveals a horrendous plague within our culture and throughout the world that is harming the souls and bodies of women and very young girls. May the Church reach out to the hurting victims to heal them and also help those who, enslaved to the lustful passions, do harm to themselves, their families, and the strangers whom they abuse.

Also check out for information on the immoral exploitation of human beings, who have been created in the image of God.

The Goose Girl is a painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. The painting is in the public domain.

Friday, September 14, 2007

St. John Chrysostom

Today is the 1600th anniversary of the falling asleep of St. John Chrysostom, recognized as one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church. The name given to him, "Chrysostom," meaning "golden mouth," testifies to his eloquence.

Information on the life of St. John Chysostom is available at Orthodoxwiki. You may read writings and homilies by St. John on the website of the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A "New" Women's Movement

Read the Washington Post article, "How to Be Good," a review of Wendy Shalit's new book, Girls Gone Mild. I'm glad to see that young women are becoming more self-aware of the problems within our culture and the consequences of living according to warped cultural values. While I hope to see a strong trend among young women toward "traditional morality" and ethical living, even those who reject the harmful cultural values don't have a complete understanding of what "good" means, why being bad is harmful to their own souls and to others, and why it's good to be good.

American culture is like a ship in a wind-tossed sea. We can see over the last several decades how the pendulum has swung from one movement to another, reacting against the one before. Within the Orthodox Church, however, a certain continuity has been maintained for 2,000 years. What young women in secular American culture are rediscovering, we have known since the beginning. Orthodoxy offers a holistic understanding of the self and life that can help young women live truly good lives for their own benefit and the benefit of their families.

Copyright © 2007 by Dana S. Kees. (Italian Girl Drawing Water, by William Adolphe Bouguereau, is in the public domain.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Falling Asleep of the Mother of God

Today we commemorate the Dormition ("Falling Asleep") of the Most Blessed Theotokos. Here is a reading from a sermon by St. John of Damascus (+760 AD):

What is this great mystery about you, O holy mother and virgin?

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

Blessed are you for generations of generations; you alone are worthy to be called blessed. Behold, all generations do call you blessed, as you have said. The daughters of Jerusalem – that is, the church’s daughters – saw you, and the royal princesses – the souls of the just – proclaimed you blessed and will praise you for all ages.

The Prophets, then, proclaim you. The Angels serve you, the Apostles revere you, the virginal mouthpiece of God takes care of the ever-virgin who was Mother of God. Today the Angels minister to you as you go home to your Son, joined by the souls of the just, of Patriarchs and Prophets. The Apostles are your escort, with a countless throng of inspired Fathers gathered from the ends of the earth as in a cloud, by your Son’s divine command, in this holy and sacred city, Jerusalem. In their godly enthusiasm, they sing holy hymns to you, the source of the Lord’s body that is for us a stream of life.

Oh, see how the source of life is carried over into life, through the midst of death! See how the one who overcame the defining limits of nature in her childbearing now gives way to those same limits, and submits her unsullied body to death! It was only right for that body to "lay aside what is mortal and put on immortality" (I Cor. 15.53), since the Lord of nature Himself did not refuse the test of death. He died in the flesh, and by that death destroyed death, bestowed incorruptibility upon corrupt nature, and made death the source of resurrection. See how the Maker of all things receives into his own hands her holy soul, now separated from that tabernacle that received God. He rightly honors her who was by nature His handmaid but whom by His saving plan He made to be his mother, in the unfathomable ocean of His love for humanity.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Christian Artist in the World

I recently discovered the article, "The Christian Artist in the World," by Deacon James Bryant. The article presents a perspective on art by an architect who is a deacon in the Orthodox Christian Church.

The article originally appeared in The Handmaiden Vol. 8 No. 4.

Photo Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Women, Health & the Orthodox Mission

According to a report on FOXNews, "Mental health experts say more and more youngsters are being influenced by the 'sexualization of girls,' a term coined in a report released earlier this year by the American Psychological Association." Apparently, mental health professionals are realizing that the message sent to young girls through the media and affirmed by the actions of some female "role models" have negative effects on the mental health of girls. Read "Young Girls Going Wild, But at What Consequences?"

We also live in a world where some people actually advocate eating disorders as a way of remaining physically thin. See the BBC Report on "Seeking 'thinspiration' ."

Without the active, spiritual experience of our Creator in our lives, human culture declines and people suffer.

These articles highlight the importance of the Orthodox Christian mission in society. As the Church, the body of Christ on earth, we have been called to reach out into the world with love and compassion to bring those around us into the safe haven where souls are healed and life is renewed. We have the anthropological knowledge and understanding of the world necessary to help young girls (along with their parents) and young women know what it means to be a healthy person in body and soul. Through education we can offer a worldview for the mind, but even more importantly, we can provide a place for the nurturing of innocence (not naivete) and a way of healing from the scars that have already been inflicted upon heart and mind.

A lot of secular people probably think that Orthodox mission and evangelism is about making converts that belong to the same organization and think the same way. This misunderstanding is unfortunate. The Orthodox mission is a medical mission. Our common vocation is to bring healing through divine grace so that people live healthy lives. If anyone ever wonders why our society needs the Orthodox Church, look around at those in need. If we're honest with ourselves, we don't have to look very far.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Evangelical Protestants & Art

I recently read, “Evangelicals Start Push in the Arts” (also available here), an Associated Press article written by Eric Gorski. The piece explores the emerging place of the arts in certain Evangelical Protestant circles.

Some Evangelicals are trying to give art a central place in their communities and worship. The article dates skepticism about art within Evangelical Protestantism back to the Protestant Reformation, when the Protestants reacted against Roman Catholicism, thereby initiating the Protestant movement that has produced thousands of denominations, groups, associations, and independent congregations.

Instead of trying to come up with a new philosophy of art or develop innovative uses for art in Evangelical culture, Evangelicals should look back beyond the beginning of both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism to discover the Orthodox Christian Church. Within the Orthodox Church art has continued to be central to the Christian life. Evangelicals have the opportunity to discover what Christians have been doing in the East for centuries and what the West, dominated by Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and secularism, has forgotten. The Orthodox Church expressed the theology of sacred art and defended the place of holy image in the Christian Church centuries ago, long before either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism existed.

In the article, an artist named Makoto Fujimura is quoted as saying,

“I’m a Christian….I am also an artist and creative, and what I do is driven by my faith experience….But I am also a human being living the 21st century, struggling with a lot of brokenness – my own, as well as the world’s. I don’t want to use the term ‘Christian’ to shield me away from the suffering or evil that I see, or to escape in some nice ghetto where everybody thinks the same.”

This statement captures the discontinuity in people’s minds between their religious life and their “real life” in American culture. Within the Orthodox way of life, no such distinction exists between our “faith experience” and our life in the world. Our life as Orthodox Christians is the experience of God within the creation. The Orthodox life is the path of healing from brokenness that allows us to become truly human in the fullest sense of the word. The term “Christian” isn’t a word that “shields” us from suffering and evil, but because we are Christians we have an understanding and sense of the meaning of suffering and evil. To be a Christian is to face suffering and evil, help others through it, and to ultimately overcome it. Being an Orthodox Christian doesn’t mean withdrawing to a “ghetto where everybody thinks the same,” but it means being the Church together, sharing a common faith and life.

The faith-expressing art described in this article isn’t clearly religious art, but abstract modern art influenced by the artists' faith. The philosophy among some Evangelical artists seems to be that in order for secular people in our culture to relate to art that reflects our faith the art we produce cannot clearly express our faith, but our faith must be ambiguously hidden within it. Instead of disguising our faith in abstraction, we need to plainly reveal the faith to others. The iconography of the Orthodox Church proclaims a clear message for anyone willing to discover it. Many casual observers may dismiss an icon as an example of irrelavent religious art, but the deeper meaning of icons can touch the soul of anyone who seeks beauty and healing. We don’t have to subversively sneak a spiritual message hidden in unintelligible images on a canvas into the unsuspecting minds of unwary observers . Abstract modern art may have value in expressing the Faith, but such abstract art is not necessary for communicating the Faith to non-Christians. For centuries, iconography has effectively communicated the Orthodox Faith and expressed the Mystery of Divine Beauty.

Fujimura says that “The Bible is full of abstraction….Think about this God who created the universe, the heavens and the earth from nothing. In order to have faith you have to reach out to something, to a mystery.” The Bible communicates a clear message. The Scripture is not analogous to a canvas splattered with lines, streams, splotches, and swaths of paint either strategically or randomly applied. (Unfortunately, abstract art often mirrors the confused, disoriented views of a corrupted, broken secular culture more than the Christian experience of Mystery.) The authors of Holy Scripture, the mystic theological poets (like St. Ephraim the Syrian and St. Symeon the New Theologian), and the great iconographers throughout history have expressed the Christian Faith both creatively and clearly, revealing the Divine Mystery they intimately experience.

This article includes an explanation of the role of movies among Evangelicals. We don’t have to search for traces of spiritual themes in secular art, or as the article puts it, try to “find holy moments within mainstream movies.” Instead, we can beneficially find holy moments in Orthodox Christian stories about people who genuinely have holy moments. Why try to find the theme of repentance in a Hollywood flick, or an indie film for that matter, when I can tell someone the amazing story of St. Mary of Egypt, a sensual urban party girl who turned away from her self-destructive lifestyle to become a desert-dwelling holy woman who found peace, enlightenment, and union with God? (Artists may be interested to know that an icon placed an important role in her conversion.) Certainly, a lot of movies offer incredible metaphors of the Christian experience, but the most powerful stories are found within the life of the Church. Unfortunately, most Evangelicals have never even heard of these stories and continue to be disconnected from the continuing life of the ancient Church where sacred art and stories are central to our daily existence.

Those who are thirsty for Beauty should come to the place where the fountain flows unceasingly. If Evangelicals want a Church where art is central to worship and prayer, they don’t need to invent something new. They can instead walk through the doors of the ancient Church where these things have been preserved from generation to generation since the earliest times.

One problem within contemporary art culture is that art is often driven by self-centered egotism. Artists may have an “I’ve got something important to say and I have a right to express it” attitude. Their art is about me and my experience. Compare that attitude with the correct attitude of an iconographer in the Eastern tradition. One who paints icons isn’t concerned with his or her own ideas or experience, but our common faith and common experience as the Church. Since our Faith is constant, a familiar continuity is present in the sacred art produced down through the ages.

There is a place for personal artistic expression in the Orthodox Christian life, but not individualistic expression because we are not independent individuals but persons within a community. There is even a place for the Western art styles, from realistic to abstract, within the Orthodox life. The importance of an artist understanding and experiencing Orthodox iconography within the life of the Church is that he or she can know the meaning and nature of truly spiritual art and be influenced and guided by it. Knowledge of iconography, an expression of our life together, will help artists to better understand how to accurately and express their own experience through other media for the benefit of others.

May artists, Evangelicals, secularists, and the “spiritual, but not religious” types discover the source of Beauty and the expression of sacred Beauty found within the Orthodox Church.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Mouse, the Bee & Islamic TV

What if Mickey Mouse taught Islamic values? Well, if you lived in Palestine and watched Al-Aqsa TV you could find out by viewing Tomorrow’s Pioneers. This is not Sesame Street. Check out one of the latest efforts to turn innocent children into violent Islamic Radicals. Watch an episode with Farfour the Mouse. When Farfour the Mouse is killed, his cousin, Nahoul the Bee replaces him. (Nahoul, more dangerous than an Africanized honeybee.)

These three episodes are compliments of the Middle East Media Review Institute (MEMRI), well respected for their translation of Arabic language sources into English.

The Tomorrow’s Pioneers show inspires me. (Please, let me explain....) If some people in the world are putting so much effort into corrupting young minds and inciting the innocent to commit murder (which often includes suicide), how much more should Orthodox Christians zealously teach their children the values of love, beauty, and peace. How can we creatively communicate to our little ones the importance of praying for our enemies, doing good even to those who hate us, and helping our neighbors, who include those not like us. Additionally, how much effort should we spend to educate parents in these values so they can pass them on to their children?

Let us teach out kids about the real Martyrs who shed only their own blood when faced with persecution.

Zeal is good when guided my Truth. Misplaced zeal is self-destructive and dangerous to others. May we neither neglect our children nor teach them the way of destruction (by word or by example), but spiritually nurture them in the way of the Saints.

(The image of the TV from Wikipedia is in the public domain.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Video: The Orthodox Western Rite

Sometimes the Orthodox Church is called the Eastern Orthodox Church. Although our roots are in the East and most of our communities in America follow the Eastern (Byzantine) Rite, some follow the Western Rite. There is only one Orthodox Church for the whole world, East and West.

What a lot of people would consider an old Roman Catholic way of worshipping predates Roman Catholicism, which began in about AD 1054. This way of worshipping is actually an ancient Orthodox way of worshipping in the Western world. Western Rite worship looks more Anglican or Roman Catholic than the Eastern Rite, but the Western Rite is Orthodox.

If you're curious about the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church, I recommend that you watch the brief video about St. Paul Orthodox Church in Houston, TX.

You may also read an article I wrote last summer on "Ancient Spirituality in the British Isles."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Podcast: The Story of Byzantium

A series of history lectures on the Eastern Roman Empire (aka Byzantine Empire) entitled, "12 Byzantine Rulers" is available online. Since the story of the Byzantine Empire is an essential part of the story of the Orthodox Church, it's worth listening to.

You can hear an interview with Lars Brownsworth, the lecturer, on NPR's Hear and Now. Another interview is available on The Scriptorium.

In addition to this podcast, you may also find Byzantium: The Byzantine Studies Page interesting.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Beauty & the Healing of the Soul: Charleston, WV

If you look at advertisements, watch TV and movies, or read magazines, you can tell that our culture is full of messages about physical beauty, how to become more attractive, and what a beautiful lifestyle looks like. Many of these messages that shape how we think about ourselves and see others are actually harmful to us and our relationships. While trying to be beautiful according to American standards, in reality we are confused and hurting inside. Self-centeredness, loneliness, lust, loss of direction, anger, relationship problems, eating disorders, violence, addiction, depression and other issues are plaguing many of us.

Beauty and the Healing of the Soul explores the problems we face and the hope found in the Orthodox way of life, the ancient way of spiritual healing.

If you live near Charleston, WV, join us on Friday, June 8th at 7:00 PM.

(Photo in ad by Jocelyn Mathewes. Used by permission. This photograph is part of her Women with Icons series.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Orthodox Study Bible Cover Design

I look forward to the publication of the complete Orthodox Study Bible, including both the Old Testament and New Testament.

Visit the Thomas Nelson, Inc. website to vote for the cover design of the new Orthodox Study Bible

(I endorse cover design option #1.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Beauty and Self-Esteem

I recently discovered an article by San Juanchos on the Blogcritics Magazine site entitled, "Ladies, Ten Ways to Boost Your Self Esteem." The last suggestion on the list (#10) is worthy of note:

"Understand that the most important part of beauty comes from within. Outer beauty fades through time, but inner beauty lasts throughout your whole life. Cultivate your spirit, read, soar, and don't spend so much time in front of that TV!"

This suggestion points the reader in the right direction. It encourages the nurturing and healing of the soul. Here's the problem: While many people within secular culture who read the article would probably agree that cultivating the spirit or nurturing the soul is something good, what these things really mean probably escapes most people. They may have a vague notion of cultivating the spirit, but their understanding would likely not reach very deep.

By living the Orthodox way of life we can diagnosis the root causes of our unhealthy self-image and receive the medicine that both heals our self-image and restores our inner beauty. Cultivating the spirit and nurturing the soul involve synergy, the cooperation between God and us. We don't need 10 ways to improve self-esteem, but we need the One who can allow us to see ourselves as we really are and heal us.

Copyright © 2007 by Dana S. Kees. (The painting by William Bouguereau is from the Art Renewal Center.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Beauty of Personal Change

Cosmetic plastic surgery is apparently becoming increasingly popular. I've seen a few video clips recently on CNN and FOX NEWS related to the subject. Most of us may not be surprised that "the Stars" are trying to look younger or just change how they look, but Fox News reported that cosmetic surgery among teenagers, even high school students, is on the rise. People are seeking to change even the smallest details of their appearances. Self-obsession with regard to outward appearance isn't just a problem among women. A report on Fox News indicates that more men are seeking Botox treatments to improve their looks. (Where is authentic manhood?)

Our society nurtures unhealthy attitudes about the human body. So many people have a corrupted view of what they really look like. The problem is not the outward appearance, but the sickness of the soul. We don't see the world, including ourselves, with clear vision. Instead of seeking clear vision to see themselves as they really are, people are changing their outward appearance so that the outer appearance conforms to their warped, blurry vision of themselves. Why alter a healthy body instead of seeking to cure the soul?

Orthodox Christians recently commemorated Christ's healing of the blind man. We chanted the prayer, "Lighten, O Lord, my supersensuous eyes, made blind by the gloom of sin. Anoint them, O compassionate One, with humility; wash them with the tears of repentance." True beauty in all its richness and depth isn't seen only with the physical eyes of the senses (sight is one of the five senses), but with our "super-sensual eyes," also called the "spiritual eyes" or the "eyes of the soul." When we turn away from our own self-conscious and prideful self-centeredness toward the One who is the source of Beauty, Love, and Life , we can see ourselves and the world around us with new eyes, enlightened by divine light.

Some people might say, "Don't think you need to change yourself. Just be proud of who you are." I'm not saying that. We all should seek to change who we are, striving to become more beautiful, loving, and full of life. This requires looking deep into our own souls. The transformation of the whole person can't be achieved by a medical procedure that affect only the body (and maybe the self-esteem). Personal transformation is acheived through the spiritual therapy that transfigures the soul and opens the eyes of the heart to see everything as it really is. If we are willing to embrace humility instead of feeding our egos then we can begin to walk down the path that leads toward real beauty and the achievement of our full human potential.

Copyright © 2007 by Dana S. Kees. (A Classical Beauty (1909) by John William Godward is from the Art Renewal Center Museum. Used by permission.)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Search for Beauty's Holy Grail

Check out a CNN video report on the "Miracle Cream" that has inspired the British. The Daily Mail has published a piece on what the paper says has become "the Holy Grail of beauty treatments." The Guardian Unlimited and The Scotsman have also published articles on the subject. What if the British, the Europeans, and the Americans enthusiastically invested so much energy and hope in the beauty and healing of their souls?

The beauty of the body isn't bad, but the beauty of the soul is far more important and long lasting, affecting also the beauty of the body. This is an icon of St. Anastasia, who holds in her pure hands the medicine that heals both the body and the soul. May our generation find inspiration in St. Anastasia and all the Saints who show us the inner way of true beauty.

Copyright © 2007 by Dana S. Kees. (The icon of St. Anastasia is from the IconoGraphics ColorWorks Library, Theologic Systems, Used by permission.)

Friday, May 04, 2007

A Summer of Beauty & Healing

A semester of formal study is coming to a close and summer vacation approaches. God willing, this summer I'll have a generous number of opportunities to speak on "Beauty and the Healing of the Soul" within the Orthodox way of life. I like writing on beauty and healing, and I've enjoyed conducting my research on the topic this year, but all of my effort is rooted in a simple desire to practically help people with the real problems that face them in American culture. May some good result from my effort.

Monday, March 05, 2007

St John Chrysostom: On Personal Beauty

St. John Chrysostom (4th c.) on the beauty of the body, the beauty of the soul, and how inner beauty can transform the outward appearance. (St. John refers to the soul here in feminine terms.):

For it is not the body wherein the beauty lies, but the expression, and the bloom which is shed over its substance by the soul.... I would have thee mark how all is hers that is beautiful. For whether she be pleased, she showers roses over the cheeks; or whether she be pained, she takes that beauty, and involves it all in a dark robe. And if she be continually in mirth, the body improves in condition; if in grief, she renders the same thinner and weaker than a spider’s web; if in wrath, she hath made it again abominable and foul; if she show the eye calm, great is the beauty that she bestows; if she express envy, very pale and livid is the hue she sheds over us; if love, abundant the gracefulness she at once confers. Thus in fact many women, not being beautiful in feature, have derived much grace from the soul; others again of brilliant bloom, by having an ungracious soul, have marred their beauty. Consider how a face that is pale grows red, and by the variation of color produces great delight, when there is need of shame and blushing. As, on the other hand, if it be shameless, it makes the countenance more unpleasing than any monster.

For nothing is fairer, nothing sweeter than a beauteous soul. For while as to bodies, the longing is with pain, in the case of souls the pleasure is pure and calm. Why then let go the king, and be wild about the herald? Why leave the philosopher, and gape after his interpreter? Hast thou seen a beautiful eye? acquaint thyself with that which is within; and if that be not beautiful, despise this likewise. For surely, didst thou see an ill-favored woman wearing a beautiful mask, she would make no impression on thee: just as on the other hand, neither wouldest thou suffer one fair and beautiful to be disguised by the mask, but wouldest take it away, as choosing to see her beauty unveiled.

This then I bid thee do in regard of the soul also, and acquaint thyself with it first; for this is clad with the body instead of a mask; wherefore also that abides such as it is; but the other, though it be mishapen, may quickly become beautiful. Though it have an eye that is unsightly, and harsh, and fierce, it may become beautiful, mild, calm, sweet-tempered, gentle.

This beauty therefore let us seek, this countenance let us adorn; that God also may “have pleasure in our beauty,” and impart to us of His everlasting blessings, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.

- St. John Chrysostom (Orthodox bishop, 4th century), Homily XXXVI on Matthew, from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website or the Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers series, volume 10, second edition (Peabody, MA: Hedrickson Publishers, 2004), 231. The image of St. John Chrysostom is in the public domain.

The Work of an Iconographer

I previously published an article about iconography written by my friend, Dan Cassis, a Greek iconographer. The following article was written by another friend, Dimitri, a young iconographer who is native to Russia:

An Orthodox Christian icon is an image of the invisible made visible through paint. It is rendered in egg tempera on a hardwood panel. One of its purposes is to be the Gospel in visual form. Icons are not present in churches and homes just for decoration or custom: it is an object of veneration. The icon is an indispensable part of our worship, which itself functions as an icon by revealing the divine presence to the faithful and uniting the earthly and heavenly Church.

To make an icon I must begin with meditation to calm my body and heart in order to become more attentive. I study the icons that have already been made, and select one as the basis for my sketch. A person or event in Scripture or in the life of the Church may be painted. Currently, I take my sketches from existing icons. I would never paint an icon of a new, original subject (person or event) without the blessing of a bishop. New subjects are most often painted when the Church recognizes that someone who has died is a Saint, a “holy one.” When a Saint is recognized, an iconographer will paint an icon of the person. Even these new images are painted according to Tradition, the life of the Church. When we paint we unveil the teachings of a way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation for 2,000 years, and we are responsible for doing so accurately.

In an icon, every line, shape, and color – every layer of paint, has meaning and is itself part of our teaching. Even the tools we use teach us.

I begin the work by making a sketch. This sketch may be a tracing of a previously painted icon or a tracing from one of my teacher’s sketches. The sketch consists of penciled lines. It takes a long time to learn how to render the lines, and these lines are everything to the icon. There are elaborate circular lines and long straight lines. Each line will have varying thicknesses, and in this way the painting can resemble calligraphy. What is rendered in pencil on paper will be traced onto the wooden board. Once the tracing is complete, the painting will begin.

Let me describe the board, the painting surface: It is called an ark, and is symbolic of the story of salvation. The board may be poplar or oak – wood free of natural faults that can be sanded very smoothly. I begin with a preliminary sanding. Then, I apply to the board linen or cotton cloth that has been stretched by being immersed in gesso, a solution made of marble dust, rabbit skin glue, and water. Several layers of gesso are applied, and will be allowed to dry without artificial heat. Next, I will sand the gessoed, clothed board many times; finishing with 400 & 600 grade sandpaper.

Finally, the drawing will be traced onto the board. I etch the lines of the drawing onto my board very carefully with a large needle, a fine nail, or an engraver. I have to be sure that the lines are etched thickly enough to be seen under one or two layers of tempera paint, but thinly enough to have grace. The lines will be painted several times.

I take a measurement from the center of the figure’s face, and with a compass draw a circle around the entire head. The circle, a halo, represents holiness. I cover the halo area with a solution of “boule” or clay. Ingredients in the solution may include garlic or a certain kind of vodka. These solutions are sticky or damp, and are applied to the panel to make the gold leaf stick to the halo. I breath onto the panel and wet the clay. Then I apply gold leaf to the halo by laying the sheet of gold leaf (with paper backing) face down onto the clay. To ensure the gold leaf adheres to the surface I gently press the leaf down by rubbing the paper backing. Very carefully I use a soft wide brush to remove surplus particles of gold. Sometimes the gold adheres easily, sometimes it doesn’t.

At this point I make my paint. I begin by separating an egg yoke from the whites. Carefully, I rinse the yoke, holding it in my hand. When it is completely free of the white and moves in my hand like a smooth jellied ball, I drop the yoke into a small bowl or cup. I add a small amount of vinegar to the yoke, which slightly thins and preserves it. A powdered pigment, the color, is also added. The pigments are ground pieces of earth and rocks from all over the world. The pigments are expensive, but tempera made in this way lasts for centuries.

I begin the actual painting using a muddy-colored thin wash of paint with a rather small brush. This paint looks earthy and reminds me of the creation, especially the earth, made by the hands of God. The icon looks formless at this point. I either use a technique called petit lac (“little lake”), or “puddling” to make the icon’s background. This layer will dry either as a glossy texture, or a smooth receding background, according to how I apply the paint.

After the background has been painted, I begin to “build” the paint. I mix colors and apply the paint smoothly in several layers, moving from dark colors to light, with the pigments that are very finely ground on the top layers. The lines are traced three times in black paint and dark colors, using a fine brush made of squirrel hair or similar material. I apply lighter areas of paint next to dark areas to build the form of the figure, but the figure will not be in 3D, for we are not trying to render an exact representational form. The finished form will actually appear inverted to the eye, but by gazing at the image the viewer will be taken in to the painting by this technique.

As I paint, I begin to recognize a draped figure. Each kind of drapery (clothing) we paint has a meaning. Its color tells us something. Dark reds and greens are used to drape Christ and the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary). The Theotokos is covered in the red of Divinity. Christ, who is Divine, is covered in the greens of the earth to tell us about His humanity. Sometimes we clothe angels to remind us of their help and their presence. The figure may hold a scroll, a cross, or some other object that tells us about his or her work on earth. Some, who were healers, are painted holding a medicine jar.

When I’m close to finishing the painting, I apply the “life-giving lines” to the figure, face and clothing. These are small, delicate lines painted with a very lightly colored pigment, usually tints of yellow and white. They appear around the hands, joints, and especially the face and neck, lighting the figure. This enlightening represents the love and presence of God. (Christ is described as Light in the New Testament.)

Finally, I letter the icon in red with the name of the person depicted. These titles appear in the upper third of the icon plane. I may trace the halo with a round line of red paint that some people say is symbolic of the blood of Christ. In an icon of Christ Himself, the three Greek letters that form the words translated “The One Who Is” or "The Existing One" are painted in a halo that surrounds Christ’s head.

The board will be given several weeks to dry in a dust free place. It will then be varnished and given to a priest who will bless the icon through ancient prayers and set it on the altar table in the holy sanctuary of an Orthodox temple. Upon the altar table, the icon will rest in an atmosphere of prayer and encounter divine grace during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Afterwards, the icon will be given to the recipient or placed in the church for the viewing, contemplation, and veneration of the faithful.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Great Canon: An Ancient Healing Prayer

This week, Orthodox Christians gather together in the evenings to pray The Great Canon together. St. Andrew of Crete wrote The Great Canon around the year 700. The heavy words of this prayer reflect the human experience, help us look into our hearts honestly, and can lead us to becoming better people, more spiritual and more human. We all sin, turning away from God, who is the source of life. Sin produces darkness and confusion within us. We need to repent, turn around back toward God, to find true life. The sins we commit are like self-inflicted wounds that injure us deep within, but through repentance (turning away from the death within us toward our life-giving God), we can begin walking back toward the One who heals us and restores our beauty. With our whole hearts and minds, let us pray:

Come, wretched soul, with thy flesh to the Creator of all. Make confession to Him, and abstain henceforth from thy past brutishness; and offer to God tears of repentance.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have rivaled the transgression of Adam, the first-formed man, and I have found myself stripped naked of God, of the eternal Kingdom and its joy, because of my sins.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Woe to me, miserable soul! How like thou art to the first Eve! For thou hast looked in wickedness and wast grievously wounded; thou hast touched the tree and rashly tasted the deceptive food.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Instead of the visible Eve, I have the Eve of the mind: the passionate thought in my flesh, showing me what seems sweet; yet whenever I taste it, I find it bitter.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I confess to Thee, O Savior, the sins I have committed, the wounds of my soul and body, which murderous thoughts, like thieves, have inflected inwardly upon me.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Though I have sinned, O Savior, yet I know that Thou art full of loving-kindness. Thou dost chastise with mercy and art fervent in compassion. Thou dost see me weeping and dost run to meet me, the Father calling back the prodigal son.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I offer to Thee, O merciful Lord, the tears of the harlot. Take pity on me, O Savior, in Thy compassion.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

With the lusts of passion I have darkened the beauty of my soul, and turned my whole mind entirely to dust.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have torn the first garment that the Creator wove for me in the beginning, and now I lie naked.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have lost the beauty and glory with which I was first created; and now I lied naked and ashamed.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have adorned the idol my flesh with a many-colored coat of shameful thoughts, and I am condemned.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have cared only for the outward adornment, and neglected that which is within—the tabernacle fashioned by God.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

With my lustful desire I have formed within myself the deformity of the passions and disfigured the beauty of my mind.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

I have discolored with the passions the first beauty of the image, O Savior. But see me, as once Thou hast sought the lost coin, and find me.

Christ said, “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15.8-10, RSV).

Photo of an icon of Christ by Dana S. Kees. The above selections from The Great Canon, also known as The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete are found in The Lenten Triodion, Trans. by Mother Mary and Bishop KALLISTOS, Great Compline for Monday and Tuesday of the First Week of Lent (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2001). These selections are printed, with commentary, in First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete by Frederica Mathewes-Green (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2006), Chapters 1, 5, & 6. The passage from Holy Scripture is from the Revised Standard Version.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Sunday of Forgiveness

Today is Forgiveness Sunday. During the service of evening prayer, known as Forgiveness Vespers, those of us gathered together at the Monastery of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk asked each other’s forgiveness. I approached each person, one by one, who stood side by side in a long line that winded confusingly around the interior of the candle-lit church.

I stood face to face with another person. We bowed to each other, kissed each other’s cheeks, sometimes kissing hands as well, and asked each other’s forgiveness. I moved on to the next person, and the next, and the next.

“Forgive me.” “God forgives and I forgive.”

I asked forgiveness from and bestowed my forgiveness upon the gathered bishops, monks, priests, deacons, seminary brothers with their wives and children, and other members of the church community. On this night I embraced my seminary brothers from all over America, as well as those native to other regions of the world: Jordan, Russia, Brazil, Uganda, and Palestine (even the town of Bethlehem, where Christ Himself was born). I encountered good friends, professors, men and women I don’t think I’ve ever met before, and too many children to count. We are one people with one Faith. We are the Church of the Holy Apostles. We are the body of Christ. This is how we begin Great Lent, a time of deep, honest self-reflection, prayer, fasting, and repentance. We begin by giving and receiving forgiveness. This is the way of the Orthodox. This is the way of healing. This is the way of beauty.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery was founded by St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, who named the monastery after his patron saint, St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. Since I worshipped in the monastery church tonight with my brothers and sisters in the Faith, I offer a sermon for Forgiveness Sunday by St. Tikhon of Moscow, the founder of the monastery:

Today is called "Forgiveness Sunday." It received this name from the pious Orthodox Christian custom at Vespers of asking each other's forgiveness for discourtesy and disrespect. We do so, since in the forthcoming fast we will approach the sacrament of Penance and ask the Lord to forgive our sins, which forgiveness will be granted us only if we ourselves forgive each other. "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."(Matt. 6. 14, 15)

Yet it is said to be extremely difficult to forgive discourtesy and to forget disrespect. Perhaps our selfish nature finds it truly difficult to forgive disrespect, even though in the words of the Holy Fathers it is easier to forgive than to seek revenge. (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk after St. John Chrysostom) Yet everything in us that is good is not accomplished easily, but with difficulty, compulsion and effort. "The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."(Matt. 11. 12) For this reason we should not be discouraged at the difficulty of this pious act, but should rather seek the means to its fulfillment. The Holy Church offers many means towards this end, and of them we will dwell on the one which most corresponds to the forthcoming season of repentance.

"Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother." The source of forgiving our neighbors, of not judging them, is included in seeing (acknowledging) our sins. "Imagine," says a great pastor, who knows the heart of man, Father John of Kronstadt, "picture the multitude of your sins and imagine how tolerant of them is the Master of your life, while you are unwilling to forgive your neighbor even the smallest offense. Moan and bewail your foolishness, and that obstruction within you will vanish like smoke, you will think more clearly, your heart will grow calm, and through this you will learn goodness, as if not you yourself had heard the reproaches and indignities, but some other person entirely, or a shadow of yourself." (Lessons on a Life of Grace, p. 149) He who admits his sinfulness, who through experience knows the weakness of human nature and its inclination toward evil, will forgive his neighbor the more swiftly, dismissing transgressions and refraining from a haughty judgment of others' sins. Let us remember that even the scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman caught in adultery to Christ were forced to depart, when their conscience spoke out, accusing them of their own sins. (John 8. 9)

Unfortunately, brethren, we do not like to acknowledge our transgressions. It would seem natural and easy for a person to know his own self, his own soul and his shortcomings. This, however, is actually not so. We are ready to attend to anything but a deeper understanding of ourselves, an investigation of our sins. We examine various things with curiosity, we attentively study friends and strangers, but when faced with solitude without extraneous preoccupation even for a short while, we immediately become bored and attempt to seek amusement. For example, do we spend much time examining our own conscience even before confession? Perhaps a few minutes, and once a year at that. Casting a cursory glance at our soul, correcting some of its more glaring faults, we immediately cover it over with the veil of oblivion until next year, until our next uncomfortable exercise in boredom.

Yet we love to observe the sins of others. Not considering the beam in our own eye, we take notice of the mote in our brother's eye. (Matt. 7. 3) Speaking idly to our neighbor's detriment, mocking and criticizing him are not even often considered sins but rather an innocent and amusing pastime. As if our own sins were so few! As if we had been appointed to judge others! "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy" ? God. (James 4. 12) "Who art thou to judge another's servant? It is before his own master that he stands or falls." (Rom. 14. 4) "Thou hast no excuse, O man, whoever thou art who judgest. For wherein thou judgest another, thou dost condemn thyself. For thou who judgest dost the same things thyself." (Rom. 2. 1) "Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; put yourselves to the test." (2 Cor. 13. 5) The pious ascetics provide a good example of this. They turned their minds to themselves, meditated on their own sins and avoided judging their neighbors at all costs

One pious elder, noticing that his brother had committed a sin, sighed and said, "Woe is me! As he sinned today, so will I tomorrow." And the following is a story about another ascetic, Abba Moisei. A monk committed a sin. The brethren, who had assembled to decide his case, sent for Abba Moisei, but the humble elder refused to attend the council. When the rector sent for him a second time, he appeared, but in quite a striking manner. He had taken an old basket, filled it with sand and was carrying it on his back. "What does this mean?" asked the monks, catching sight of him. "See how many sins I bear behind me?" answered Moisei, pointing to the heap of sand. "I don't see them, yet I have come to pass judgment upon another."

So therefore, brethren, following the example of the ascetics, upon observing others' sins, we should consider our own sins, regard our own transgressions and not judge our brother. And should we hold anything against him, let us pardon and forgive him, that our merciful Lord may forgive us also.

(The photo of St. Tikhon of Moscow is in the public domain.)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Looking to the Cross

As we prepare to begin Great Lent, forty days of intense personal reflection, prayer, and repentance in preparation for Pascha (Easter), let's begin by looking to the Cross for encouragement and strength:

Hail! life-giving Cross, unconquerable trophy of godliness, door to Paradise, succour of the faithful, rampart set about the Church. Through thee corruption is utterly destroyed, the power of death is swallowed up, and we are raised from earth to heaven: invincible weapon, adversary of devils, glory of martyrs, true ornament of saints, haven of salvation bestowing on the world great mercy.

Hail! Cross of the Lord: through thee mankind has been delivered from the curse. Shattering the enemy by thine Exaltation, O Cross all-venerable, thou art a song of true joy. Thou art our help, thou art the strength of kings, the power of righteous men, the majesty of priests. All who sign themselves with thee are freed from peril. Thou rod of strength under which we like sheep are tended, thou art a weapon of peace round which the angels stand in fear. Thou art the divine glory of Christ, who grants the world great mercy.

Hail! guide of the blind, physician of the sick and resurrection of all the dead. O precious Cross, thou hast lifted us up when we were fallen into mortality. Through thee corruption has been destroyed, and incorruption has flowered forth; we mortal men are made divine and the devil is utterly cast down. Seeing thee exalted by the hands of bishops on this day, we exalt Him who was lifted high upon thee, and we venerate thee, plenteously drawing forth from thee great mercy.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Cross is the guardian of the whole earth; the Cross is the beauty of the Church. The Cross is the strength of kings; the Cross is the support of the faithful. The Cross is the glory of angels and the wounder of demons.

Today the Cross is exalted and the world is sanctified. For Thou who art enthroned with the Father and the Holy Spirit hast spread Thine arms upon it, and drawn the world to knowledge of Thee, O Christ. Make worthy of divine glory those that have put their trust in Thee.

- From the Matins (morning prayer) and Vespers (evening prayer) services text for the Feast of the Elevation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, celebrated on September 14th. The Festal Menaion, Trans. by Mother Mary and His Grace, Bishop KALLISTOS (Ware), St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1998. Photo copyright © 2007 by Dana S. Kees.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What Feminine Beauty is Not

Advertisers send manipulative messages to American girls and young women about what the ideal model of beauty looks like and what they need to do to become beautiful. The American cultural conception of beauty often promoted and reinforced in the media reveals a warped vision of beauty.

Perhaps the best way to begin expressing what a really beautiful woman looks like and how a woman can become beautiful is to first describe what beauty is not.

Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has produced the Evolution Film that demonstrates why Americans have a distorted image of beauty. The animation shows how the image of a girl has been changed into something she is not. (Men are affected by these images too because the images shape the way men think about beauty, including the beauty of women.) Also check out this GirlPower - Retouch webpage. Click on the picture of the cover girl to see what she really looks like. (You may have to click the image a couple times for the process to begin.) Deconstruct the altered photo step by step.
Copyright © 2007 by Dana S. Kees. (The Palm Leaf is a painting by William Bouguereau, my favorite European artist.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Music: Adam Nixon

"I write, play guitar, and sing. I like to sing about things that matter to me. I try to describe life realistically and to point out whatever small beauty I am capable of seeing." - Adam Nixon

Adam is a good friend of mine. I like his music. It's honest. His music is about life and, since he's living the Orthodox way of life, it's an expression of the Orthodox experience.

If you go into an Orthodox church you will hear the ancient music of our divine services. If you go to one of our cultural festivals, like a Greek Fest or Mediterranean (Arabic) Fest, you'll hear the folk music of Orthodox people who have cultural ties to other parts of the world. Adam makes music that has a familiar American feel, and it's good with a cup of coffee. Check out his music at MySpace Music and at StageFM.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Russian Movie: The Island

I recently discovered the existence of The Island (Ostrov), a Russian film shown at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival about Anatoly, a Russian Orthodox monk. You can watch about 15 minutes of the film (English subtitles included) on the festival's website. Click on the "View the Video" link under the picture.

The main character in this film reminds me of the Saints, like St. Basil of Moscow, who are known as "Holy Fools."

Perhaps The Island is a good film to watch during Great Lent, when we are called to deep self-reflection, prayer, and repentance so that we may be healed from our own self-inflicted wounds.

Photo Copyright © Pam Roth. According to, “the copyright holder of this image allows anyone to use it for any purpose including unrestricted redistribution, commercial use, and modification.”

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Thoughts on Orthodox Missions

I was inspired by a recent post on Orthodixie to offer a few thoughts on Orthodox Missions:

What is our motivation for Orthodox missions? In other words, why do we want secular people to become Orthodox Christians and endeavor to bring unchurched people into the Orthodox Church? The answer is simple: Love.

The Orthodox way of life is the way of love. We commune with Divine Love, are transformed by Love, and express love through our actions in the world. As St. Paul said, if we don't have love we are nothing. As the Orthodox way of life is the way of love it is also the way of healing, the therapeutic way. Our society is full of spiritual sickness and confusion because individual persons have spiritual sickness and confusion within them. (This is part of our shared human experience.) With hearts full of humility and compassion we reach out in love to bring people into the Church, the spiritual hospital where Christ, the Great Physician, heals our wounds and makes us well. Within the Church we experience the spiritual care of the soul, the kind of care we all need. If our hearts are really filled with love for those around us, can we restrain ourselves from bringing others to the fountain that heals and renews life?

The Orthodox way isn't just a path for educated religious people who read novels by Dostoyevsky and study Orthodoxy with intellectual curiosity. Our way of life is also for the ordinary people who don't have time to read books on philosophy or surveys of Byzantine history because they're too busy working for a living. It's also for people who do have the spare time to read these kinds of books, but would rather do something else. It's for environment-friendly types who love the beauty of the earth and want to live a holistic spiritual existence. It's also for those who haven't even thought much about spirituality, or even know what the word means. It's for the pizza guy who delivers dinner, the girl who's behind the counter in the coffee shop, the dad who works long hours at the office, and the mom who needs something more for herself and her kids. It's for the child learning to walk, the college student who drinks too much, and the retired couple settled into a routine. The Orthodox Church is for anyone who needs the healing grace of God in their lives. It's for human beings. It's for us all.

How do we introduce people, like those described above, to our way of life? We have several approaches rooted in our Tradition. The earliest approach may be called "go and tell." The Holy Apostles dedicated their lives to traveling throughout the world to teach people the way and to establish local churches. Most of them were killed, a fact that shows the depth of their love and the importance of their mission.

Another approach is "come and see." We have a saying that goes something like this: "If you want to know what we believe, come and see how we pray." Many people discover the Orthodox way of life by visiting a local Orthodox church, a holy temple where the presence of the Creator God dwells among His community. Within this temple visitors should see the beauty of heaven on earth, revealed through the smoky incense in our ancient liturgy, music, and art. They should also see the beauty of heaven in our hearts. Everyone who walks through the doors of our churches should be greeted with personal care, genuine hospitality, and other expressions of divine love.

I'll call the third approach "personal witness." (We need to remember that we are always persons within the family of the Church. A person is not an isolated individual.) This approach consists of showing people the Orthodox way of life by living it, daily. By living the Orthodox way, the way of participation in the divine life, Christ reveals Himself through us. Because people see the Orthodox Church when they see us, we have to live a life of constant prayer and repentance to overcome our self-centeredness and imperfection. We hope that when people encounter us they don't see our sinful pride and ugliness (since we're still in the healing process), but will instead see (with God's help) the image of Christ within us.

May we, guided by the Holy Spirit, continue to proclaim the good news, walk the path that leads to our own healing (salvation), and reach out into a dark world to lead others into the light. "I am the light of the world," Christ said, "He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8.12, NKJV).

Copyright © 2007 by Dana S. Kees. (The icon shown above is from St. Philip Antiochian Orthodox Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: Used by permission.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Contemporary Art & Beauty

"Admit it - you really hate modern art": This is the title of an article recently published by The Asian Times. So much of Contemporary Art seems devoid of beauty, often influenced by the intellectual rejection of beauty as an idea.

The Orthodox Christian life is the way of beauty. Our sacred art (iconography), a reflection of divine Beauty, is central to our whole way of life. The icons are beautiful, yet reveal a beauty beyond themselves. Beauty is more than an idea. It is a Mystery.

For one to truly know the beauty of Orthodox art, the person must experience it within the spiritual life of the Orthodox Church. To get an idea what Orthodox art is not, one may begin by reading The Asian Times article.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Americans Finding the Ancient Way

The press has written several good articles on the Orthodox Church lately. USA Today printed the article "More Americans Join Orthodox Christian Churches" on January 11, 2007. More recently, on January 21, 2007, The Detroit Free Press published an article entitled, "Ancient Ways Entice Detroit Christians." These are both good articles worth reading.

Some articles about Orthodoxy include what seem to me confusing statements about the history of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church is the Church founded by Christ on the Apostles. It did not split from the Catholic Church or come out of the Catholic Church. (It is the "Catholic Church" by definition.) I understand that in an effort to limit the length of the articles and to avoid offending Roman Catholics, explaining the separation of the Church of Rome from the other Churches that together comprised the Orthodox Church a thousand years ago may be a task writers would rather avoid. I have no doubt they have good intentions. Those who really want to discover the ancient Orthodox Faith will have a chance to figure all that out anyway.

May we continue to receive favorable attention that helps people discover the secret every American should know. By our faithfulness and love, may we continue to reveal Christ through our lives to the people around us, thereby offering good reasons for receiving good press.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Europe's Trojan Horse

I found an interesting article on the CNN website today. Christiane Amanpour, CNN's Chief International Coorespondant, wrote "Radical, Moderate Muslims Battle for Young English Minds." A related article on the CNN site is "Radicals vs. Moderates: British Muslims at Crossroads." These articles are part of The War Within, a CNN special report. (Check out the video links on these pages.) Similarly, The Guardian published "Revealed: Preachers' Messages of Hate - Muslim Worshippers are Being Urged by Radical Clerics to Ignore British Law."

Islam isn't only clashing with British culture. In 2005, Muslims rioted in the streets of Paris. (See The New York Sun and BBC News for articles.) Spain has also been touched. Read the article in The Independent entitiled, "Spanish Bishops Fear Rebirth of Islamic Kingdom." You can also read about "The Islamification of Europe's Cathedrals" on Islam isn't just clashing with the secular culture of Western Eruope, but also with the Roman Catholic Church.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Catechist's Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, to Thee I cry: hear me Thine unworthy servant! Enlighten my mind; grant that I may truly and clearly describe Thy way into the Kingdom of Glory which Thou in Thy mercy has granted us!

Grant that those who read and listen to my words may be filled with Thy love, enlightened by Thy knowledge and made strong by Thy power. Warm our hearts with Thy Spirit and we shall joyfully and fervently go the way which Thou hast shown us.

- A prayer of St. Innocent of Alaska, missionary to North America

This prayer appears in The Way, The Truth, and The Life Teacher's Manual, published by the Orthodox Christian Education Commission, 2003.