Orthodox Guilt & Despair: Is Heaven Really That Difficult to Reach?

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Is Heaven really that far away? For an Orthodox Christian it can feel so distant, leading us to a frequent sense of guilt and despair, never feeling we have done or can do “enough.”

In a sense Heaven is both far and near. On the one hand we are baptized and bear God inside us, becoming adopted heirs and children of God’s kingdom (Gal 3:26-29), being transformed into heavenly citizens (Phil 3:20) and are ambassadors of Heaven (2 Cor 5:20); also we walk into church and worship among the angels (Rev 7:11) and touch the body and the blood of Christ (John 6:32-70). But on the other hand we read ominous warnings throughout Scripture that tell us plainly of what awaits sinners (Gal 5:19-21); and on top of that, when we talk about people “who made it to heaven” in the Orthodox Church (“the cloud of witnesses“), we almost exclusively hear about only the loftiest of saints as being certain of their eternal place, and rarely hear about “regular people” in Heaven.

While the requirement to strive to enter Heaven and pursue holiness will never go away, from my surveying the afterlife experiences of “regular people,” and looking into Scripture and the Fathers, I think Heaven is a lot closer than we tend to think.
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Eclipse: Evidence of God. Did an Eclipse also prove Christ is God during His crucifixion?

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Eclipse-fever is sweeping across the United States as regions in 14 states will be able to experience a total solar eclipse. Some people are scoffing at all the excitement and anticipation, and others like myself are getting prepared for the big event. I bought certified sun-viewing binoculars, and certified paper glasses to make sure I safely view the eclipse.

Why am I so excited? Of course, as with most others, I’m looking forward to the immense beauty and remarkable occurrences that accompany an eclipse (for a few minutes during totality, the temperature drops around 15 degrees, darkness envelops you, stars are visible, and normally unseen outer edges of the Sun which dance around become apparent).

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Top 15 Religious Experiences During My Visit to Egypt and Paris (with PHOTOS)

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My wife and I had the blessing of visiting Paris as well as various parts of Egypt this year. It was our first visit to both places (I was born in Egypt but hadn’t returned since coming to the U.S. when I was about 4 years old; my wife, Egyptian as well, had never been to Egypt). I encountered a number of expected and also unexpected sights that had a notable impact on me from a religious perspective. Both Paris and Egypt have a lot to offer in that regard, and here are my top 15 experiences:

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Salvation = Grace + ??: Do We Orthodox Focus Too Little on the Redeeming Blood of Jesus and Too Much on Righteousness?

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The other day in Sunday school, as I was discussing a phrase that the early Fathers often spoke—”There is no salvation outside the Church”—and also spoke about the need to strive for righteousness so we can be ready on judgment day, someone asked: “What is the role of the blood of Jesus in all of this?” “Where is grace?”

“It goes without saying,” I said, “that grace of Christ’s death and redeeming blood is the foundation of salvation.”

But they challenged that assumption and responded: “In the Orthodox Church, it is not spoken of enough.” Is that a fair statement, do you think?

As I was preparing this post, a friend of mine reached out to me because he was challenged with the same type of concern brought forward by some Orthodox Christians, that somehow the Orthodox Church is undermining grace when we emphasize the fact that “works” (being righteous) is necessary for salvation.

I think these questions and challenges often stem from the extent to which Evangelicals and other similar non-Orthodox Christian denominations emphasize “nothing but the blood of Jesus” (as the song goes) and “justification by faith in Christ” as being all that is needed to reach heaven, while excluding the need for the Church and righteousness, although Scriptures teach otherwise. And so, when we Orthodox are continually exposed to this message with such a singular focus on the issue of salvation, many are persuaded that maybe they are right: we are justified to enter heaven by faith in Christ, and that’s all we need.

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My Intriguing Visit to an Ethiopian Orthodox Church—A First-Time Coptic Visitor’s Perspective

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What a remarkable experience I had visiting the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church! A friend of mine gave my name to an Ethiopian Orthodox priest, suggesting that I give the after-church sermon to the youth. He invited me to attend the service, which I did, and by the end of it I had so many questions I wanted answered due to all the intriguing things I witnessed! Here are all the fascinating things I learned, and my observations upon further reflection:

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Corporate / Work Life and Christianity: The Delicate Balance for Succeeding in Both in Light of “Treasure Sunday.”

CorporateWorkLifeandChristianPursuits.pngEver since I left working for the government as a public defender and a prosecutor (for 7 years) and entered into the workforce in Corporate America, I have struggled with the balance between succeeding and increasing in wealth, and maintaining a Christian heart and perspective on all my endeavors. I’ve spent nearly 4 years in the corporate world, and today I was struck by the message I heard this Sunday, often referred to as “Treasure Sunday” in the Coptic Church, and thought about how to apply it to the delicate balance for succeeding in work life and in Christianity, not to the exclusion of either. Continue reading

How much of the Coptic liturgical text today is Greek? I just tallied the number and the results are surprising.

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If you didn’t already know, the Coptic Liturgical text today is filled with Greek. But how much of it is Greek? People have been giving and receiving all kinds of answers to that question, so I set out to get an actual answer. Here are the results, tips on telling the difference, and what the numbers may or may not tell us: Continue reading

This Afterlife Story Just Got Very Real

Coptic_Choir_Accident_Heliopolis_Egypt_1999-MariamSobhy.pngA friend of mine sent me a kind message regarding my book and then shocked me as she revealed she knew one of the girls in the book whose afterlife experience had been recorded. My friend Mira was asking me for more details, but I was the one eagerly seeking to learn more. Continue reading

What does the Afterlife have to do with Christmas? Making Christmas meaningful to you today.

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Last week I had the blessing of speaking virtually to a wonderful group of Coptic youth in Pittsburgh. The servants there asked that I correlate the Afterlife and Christmas, which may seem like an unusual and difficult correlation to make, but in fact not only is there a direct connection between the two, Christmas is even more relevant now. A link to the video presentation / lecture I prepared is provided below.  Continue reading

Are All Rulers, Good & Evil, Placed in Power by God?

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In the U.S.A., we are less than one week away from selecting a new president. During the primaries, as hopes of my favorite candidate becoming president faded, a young friend made a remark that made me think. He said (and I paraphrase), “No matter what ends up happening, we know that God is behind it and He will do what is best.” As I was preparing a lesson on Romans 13, where St. Paul says “there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God,” I wondered: could it be that all rulers, good and evil, are placed in power by God’s direct will and intention?  Continue reading