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

OrthodoxGuiltAndDespairIsHeavenReallyThatFarjohnbelovedhabibwordpressv3.png

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.
Continue reading

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

ChristRedeemingBlood.png

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.

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.

Afterlife_and_Christmas_by_JohnHabib.png

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

The One Question That Surprisingly Almost Always Stumps Non-Orthodox Christians (and many Orthodox): Where Did Good People Go After Death, Before Christ?

WhereDidGoodPeopleInOldTestamentGoAfterDeathBeforeChristBlogImage.jpg

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:

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.

Continue reading

What to think of the Non-Orthodox? What a Second Century Bishop says about those who are outside of “the Church.”

ChristandApostles-CatacombsofDomitilla.png

I cannot believe how applicable this second century bishop’s words are to the present time. I challenge all of you to read this and not be at the least intrigued, or like me, be extremely moved by what he has to say.

He teaches fundamental truths that we Orthodox have too often slowly forgotten or are willing to do away with for the sake of being more “accepting.” Acceptance of people does not also require accepting their errant teaching.

To make this Church Father’s writings more accessible, I’ve provided his words in the form of a Question and Answer conversation/interview. Continue reading

Why Christ and Christmas are Cooler Than Thor

christandchristmascoolerthanthorpostimage.jpg

Last year I published this article in the Mighty Champions Magazine, a teen magazine produced by the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern U.S.A.. I’m a huge fan of all that superhero stuff (especially my comic I’ve been collecting since the beginning: Miles Morales Spider-man comics—I have every single comic since he came out).

A lot of times superheroes are given “Savior” story lines. That’s what they do. They are super and they are heroes because they do phenomenal things to save people and often the world or even the universe from destruction.

So here I wanted to compare the story of the famed Thor with the story of Christ: who is a cooler super hero?  Continue reading

Why Christ Had to Be Born, Not Just Appear In Spirit, To Save Us: According to St. Athanasius

Christ's Incarnation -- The Reason For Season[This post is derived from a Sunday School lesson given 12/14/2014. You can download the presentation here]  [Also, click on the above image for a full high resolution version that you can download and share as you wish!]

St. Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation” is a must read for every Christian, Orthodox or not. (A free public copy is provided at the end of this post). Don’t take my word for it; C.S. Lewis, famous author and writer of the Chronicles of Narnia series (among many other works), called it “a masterpiece.”

St. Athanasius answers fundamental questions in the work, including:

  • Why couldn’t Adam and Eve have just repented?
  • What does it mean that they would “surely die”?
  • Why was Christ born?
  • Why couldn’t Christ have just saved us by appearing in spirit, without becoming incarnate?

Here is a summary of what the 20th Archbishop of Alexandria had to say in the first couple of chapters:

Continue reading

How to Explain the Need for Christianity, and Orthodoxy in 5 easy steps

Christ And Disciples (from icon in Coptic Church in Columbus, OH) If someone were to ask you, why do I need Christ? Why do I need to be Christian? Why do I need Orthodoxy? Why can I not simply be a good person?

Some answer: because God gives me blessings, and so I need Him to remain blessed and prosperous. To that I say, Christianity is not just a feel good religion conferring material prosperity as erroneously preached by many today (such as Joel Olsteen and Joyce Meyer—see this article for more on this). There is no denying that by God’s grace He gives (2 Corinthians 9:8), but at the same time God’s grace is manifested in our lack and in enduring suffering (Matthew 7:14; 2 Corinthians 12:9–10). With or without material abundance, a Christian seeks spiritual compensation now and hereafter. So if prosperity is not guaranteed, then why do I need Christianity, and Orthodoxy? It’s easy to get lost in all the details, so let’s simplify things. The answer revolves around two key matters:

Continue reading