In 2019, I had the chance to visit the ancient city of Cappadocia during a recent trip with my wife to Turkey. There you will find the remnants of monastic, anchorite community dwellings, which began to form as instructed by the famed St. Basil the Great (330–379, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia), one of the three “Cappadocian Fathers” as they are called (including also his brother St. Gregory of Nyssa [c. 335 – c. 395], and St. Gregory of Nazianzus [329–389]).Continue reading
When my wife and I decided to travel to Italy, I did not realize the extent to which we would encounter profound and deeply moving spiritual experiences. Certainly, much of my focus in planning the trip was on how to connect with the early Church, but what I didn’t realize was how much of an impact some of these places would have. The journey began well in advance of the trip, as I poured over several books and other sources, including soliciting recommendations of friends, to map out where I could find plausibly authentic* relics of saints, and visit sites significant to early Christian history. I am excited to share a series of posts on our Spiritual Experiences in Italy, beginning with this one about what for me may have been the most moving moment of the whole trip: seeing the incorrupt body of St. Marina the monk, an early Church saint who I grew up hearing about in the reading of the Synaxarion at Church, and who I have always greatly admired as an example for her resilience in humbly, and silently, accepting false accusations, pursuing Christ’s example as the innocent lamb silently led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). Continue reading
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil … He … fasted forty days and forty nights” (Matthew 4:1). That is the story we commemorate in the Coptic Church this Sunday as part of the Great Fast readings—”Temptation Sunday.”
The existence of evil spirits—Satan and his fallen angels—is undoubtedly a basic tenant of Christian belief. We read about it in Scripture, and growing up as Orthodox Christians, we often hear of their interactions with humans in very real ways throughout history and until the present. But in the secular world we live in today, where the study of things you can measure and see prevails over faith and belief in the (usually) unseen, I found it refreshing, albeit a bit scary, to have read an article on CNN about a psychiatrist who is called upon by the Catholic Church to help them determine when a person is simply mentally ill or actually demon possessed: for the former he can offer medical assistance, for the latter only God can treat.
Reading the article further validates and substantiates what Christians have known all along; and it is those same evil spirits who will take us to Hades with them after death if we have not been saved by grace and lived a life of repentance.
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.
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:
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
Tell me, where is St. Mary buried? If you know anything about the ancient Apostolic Churches, you’ll know that they love to pay respect to the relics of heroes of the faith, “of whom the world was not worthy” (in the words of St. Paul [Hebrews 11:38]). You would think that with all the honor and adoration given to St. Mary, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches would be lining up in droves to get a glimpse of her bodily remains! Well, the answer to “where is St. Mary buried” explains why we celebrate her in August (15th in Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches, 22nd in the Coptic Church).
The answer is: Continue reading
The other day Suzy and I had the opportunity to meet a lovely young lady who asked us: “What are the main differences between Protestantism and Orthodoxy?” (paraphrase). Talk about a hefty undertaking!
“Where do I begin,” I thought out loud.
One of the biggest differences is that the Orthodox turn to a slew of Christian leaders over the past nearly 2,000 years to understand the faith, so there is a wealth of depth that has accumulated over time, that is unfortunately overlooked by many Christians today.
To show her what is lost by not having the benefit of thousands years of Christian teaching, I asked her a question that I’ve asked non-Orthodox Christians for years, and I have yet to ever receive the right answer. And when they realize what it is I’m asking, and the answer they are giving, their intrigue is always peaked as they realize something is missing regarding an integral aspect of their understanding of salvation.
Here’s the question:
“Where did good people in the Old Testament go after they died, before Christ’s manifestation in the flesh and the salvation He accomplished for us?”
People like: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, Solomon, Levi, Moses, Jonah? Adam? Eve? Where did they go when they died?
The answer I usually get:
There’s been a sudden eruption in purported afterlife accounts produced by major publishers, and they have been making millions. Some people wonder if all these accounts are true, and many have had their suspicions as they’ve noticed discrepancies between those stories and Scripture. It is rare to see someone, especially a young child, have the courage years later to admit that one such experience was actually something they fabricated. Yet that’s exactly what happened for the book, “The boy who came back from heaven—a true story,” published by Tyndale House. The boy in the story is named Alex, and he and his father Keven Malarkey are named as co-authors. Ironically, the word “malarkey” means “meaningless talk” or “nonsense,” which Alex admitted his fictitious account turned out to be. You can read all about it in a variety of news outlets (see further below for more info). Not only was there a book, but as is becoming more common these days, even a movie was made about this now debunked story. Here is how Alex broke the news: