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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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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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

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

Announcing the Release of My Book: “Orthodox Afterlife”

OrthodoxAfterlifeReleaseAnnouncement.png15 years ago, before the afterlife became mainstream fanfare with books and movies about heaven and the like, my journey to understand what has been taught and experienced by Orthodox Christians for the last 2,000 years about life beyond was just beginning.

During my college years (as my friends can attest) I was living a very sinful life away from God. Think of the typical, worldly college experience: that was me. My eternal future didn’t matter because I was enjoying satisfying my present.

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Core Christian Messages Found In the Epistle to the Romans

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I’ll be honest. When I found out I was scheduled to speak to my Sunday school class about the the first four chapters in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, I was less than thrilled, as I didn’t know if I could find a relevant, practical message that could have an impact on those listening. Four chapters, 60 minutes. How?

I just finished giving the lesson and I must say, as I went along the journey of preparing for it, I was delighted to find deep, core Orthodox Christian messages that I was able to share, and that may be easily missed. And this was just the first four chapters!  Continue reading

Mediocre “Christian” Lives and Our Lost Youth

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Hookah bar anyone? How about going clubbing? Getting drunk? Smoking some weed? Hooking up with some hot girl / guy? Sounds like stuff Christians would be thinking/doing/saying right?

Then why are so many of my Coptic brothers and sisters so lost? I am reminded of this when I go to weddings and it looks like people are dressed for a club, and as it turns out, the reception turns into one.  Continue reading