Which Way to God?

They do Him wrong who take God just in one particular way. They take the way rather than God.

Selected German Sermons, 20, p. 191, in Meister Eckhart. (1994). Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings. (O. Davies, Trans.). Penguin Books.

We seek God via various means and ways: prayer, contemplation, sorrow and repentance, rejoicing, thanksgiving, praise, solitude, community, stillness, service, and so on. Is there a right way? Is there a rule that holds for everyone? Must we all seek stillness? Or service? 

These are important questions. Many have wasted years of their lives grinding slowly along a difficult way, only to come up empty-handed—or worse, resentful—at the end. I see someone else progressing joyfully closer to God through solitude, but when I try to follow the same path, I find myself lonely, despondent, angry, left out, unfulfilled. Is this just the struggle required to find the precious divine treasure of God’s presence? Or (dare I contemplate the thought) is this just the wrong path for me?

Meister Eckhart’s words point out something very important here: step back a moment, and ask yourself, “what is it really that I am seeking?” There is a key difference between seeking the path to God on the one hand, and seeking God on the other. To seek the path—to insist on this path and no other—is to make an idol of the path. To seek God is to be open to any path that will get me to my destination. 

We often pay great attention to what we like or dislike about a path to God. If by my nature I like the company of others, then I will naturally gravitate to paths that involve being with others, serving others, sharing with others (e.g., group activities, face to face charity work, etc.) I develop a preference for such practices and actively seek them out. I enjoy them. 

There is nothing wrong with that, so far as it goes, until the path itself becomes my goal, rather than a means to the goal of God Himself. If the joy I find in the company of others is just that—the satisfaction of my social nature, then this is a path to my own satisfaction, and not to God. There is nothing wrong with satisfying a need for social interaction—just don’t kid yourself that this is a profound and powerful spiritual practice. 

Remember this then: intend God alone and seek Him only. Then whatever kinds of devotional practice come to you, be content with those. For your intention should be directed at God alone and at nothing else. Then what you like or dislike is all right, and you should know that to do it differently is to do it wrongly. They who desire so many ways of devotion push God under a bench. Whether it is the gift of tears or sighings or the like—none of this is God. If these come to you, all well and good. If they do not come to you, that too is all right and you should receive what God wishes you to in that moment, remaining always in humility and absence of self … 

Selected German Sermons, 20, p. 191, in Meister Eckhart. (1994). Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings. (O. Davies, Trans.). Penguin Books.

What does it mean to seek God alone? Does it mean to neglect or look down on other people and things? Not at all! It means to find God in other people and things. We cannot gaze upon God directly, we can in our current state only gaze upon God through the things He has made: people and things. The mistake is not that I pay attention to them, but that I see them apart from God, the God who created them, sustains them, reflects Himself in them, and fills them with His presence and love. God is present in both the stillness and the activity, in both the solitude and the community. He knows at any given moment which of the paths is the clearest for me to follow, and the grace of His Holy Spirit is constantly, gently nudging me here and there. When I insist upon my own prejudices and preferences, I wrench myself free of His gentle guidance, and shift my attention from God my true goal to the path I prefer. I make of the path an idol.

To learn how not to do this is no easy thing. But it is a good thing. It is the way to God.

The wind blows where it wishes, 
and you hear the sound of it, 
but cannot tell where it comes from 
and where it goes.
So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

John 3:8

Women and Christianity

Christianity transformed the world for women.

That is a very big claim, but it really is not an exaggeration. I’ll show you some of the evidence that backs it up below.

Today, we simply take it for granted that men and women are of equal value and equal ability, and we build our modern Western societies around that understanding. Women have the same rights in law as men, inherit equal shares with their brothers, have (at least in theory) the same access to education and careers, and so on. What most people don’t realise is that as a matter of history, it was, by and large, Christ and Christianity that made this possible. To put it somewhat simply, before Christ, women were not considered equal to men or treated as equal to men. The teaching and example of Christ are the foundation upon which equality of the genders came about. To claim that without Christ, women would still be unequal today would be speculative (equality might have come about some other way). But the claim that equality actually came about in history because of Christ is on pretty strong ground. Long before ‘feminism’ became A Thing, Christianity was turning the world upside down and revolutionising how we all think of women. Here, I am not engaging in the modern debates over the role of women in society and in Church. I am just pointing some very important facts of history—in very broad strokes (there’s a lot of detail and nuance that won’t fit in a blog post)—that are often neglected in such debates.

Social inferiority of women was the general case before Christ came into the world. Continue reading “Women and Christianity”

A Coptic Priest’s Thoughts on Black Lives Matter.

The world that forgets God, brothers and sisters, is ruled by injustice toward neighbours and inhumanity toward the weak … Do not use force because you rule, nor commit extortion because you are able to do so, but show the qualities of justice even while the means of authority are available to you.

~ St Basil the Great, “On Mercy and Justice,” in On Social Justice (Popular Patristics Series Book 38). St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Kindle Edition, Loc. 1718, 1745.


Is there a “Christian approach” to the current swelling of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in response to the death of George Floyd? The issue of social inequality of non-whites is a deeply political one, especially at the moment. I want to make some observations on two questions in this brief post: should Christians get involved in politics?; and how might Christians—particularly Coptic Orthodox Christians—approach the BLM movement?

Should Christians Get Involved in Politics?

As I understand the life and teaching of Jesus and His apostles, to be a follower of Jesus is to rise above the fleeting and ever-changing political attitudes and movements that human beings create for themselves. Jesus’ Jewish listeners saw in Him a political figure, a messiah to liberate them from oppressive Roman rule and restore a Jewish kingdom under God. Jesus refused. His vision was far above this narrow human hope. The Kingdom Jesus established is certainly under the True God, but although it is in this world, it is not of this world—it is not about political or military power, or economic management, or legislating laws. It is not about Roman or Jewish rule, or political rule at all. Jesus did transform society, but He didn’t do it through political lobbying and power plays—He did it by changing hearts.

Jesus didn’t take sides on the political issues of His time. But that doesn’t mean He had nothing to say about those issues. Continue reading “A Coptic Priest’s Thoughts on Black Lives Matter.”

Chewing on Words


Astute readers who have prayed the Coptic Liturgy of St Basil in English over some years may have noticed that a few words in the liturgy have changed from translation to new translation. One example of this is this prayer from the Litany of the Clergy. See if you can work out which word has given the translators a headache:


“And them that with them rightly divide the word of truth …”
(Marquis de Bute, 1882).

“As well as, those who rightly disclose with them the word of truth …”
(Fr Tadros Y Malaty, 1976)

“And those who rightly define the word of truth with Him …”
(Papal Committee, c. 1990).

“And those who rightly administer with him the word of truth …”
(Prof. Fayek Ishak, 2007).

“And those who rightly handle the word of truth with him …”
(Coptic Reader).


The word translated in Coptic Reader as “handle” is ni-et-shoat evol (nyetswt ebol). The verb construction “shoat evol” means literally to “cut out,” to incise and remove, and hence by extension, it can also mean to “minister” or administer to, or even to “excommunicate.”* But clearly, we are not praying for those who excommunicate the word of truth! The obvious meaning here is those who minister the word of truth to others, but the verb shoat tells us just how this ministry is meant to work.

“Divide,” to the modern mind, perhaps has connotations of splits in the Church and disagreements (“excommunicate!”), which might explain why its appearance in some earlier English translations was replaced by the somewhat less literal translation, “handle.” But there is no need for this substitution if we understand Continue reading “Chewing on Words”

Your God Is Too Small!


I wonder if there is not a very pagan foundation to the way some Christians think about God. There is, of course, the whole “transactional” relationship between humans and God, the idea that God is chiefly of interest to me in terms of what He can give me, what He can protect me from, and what He can inflict upon me, and that I must deal with Him wisely so as to placate and please Him and therefore maximise my benefit from Him. I addressed that topic in a recent post.

What I am thinking of here is the pagan idea of polytheism—many gods; and the tribal competition that goes on within such a world view—my god is better than your god. By and large, in the pagan world, the existence of many gods was taken for granted. Worshippers of one god did not consider the god of their neighbours to be non-existent, but to be inferior. And should one’s own god turn out to be the inferior one, then the prudent course of action is to switch allegiance to the more powerful god (thus maximising one’s benefits).

Doesn’t this worldview lie behind certain strands of Christian thought in some circles today?

Consider the question of whether the Allah of Islam is the same as the God of Christianity. Continue reading “Your God Is Too Small!”

On Anger


How often do you change your mind about something? I mean, really change your mind? A few years ago I had the privilege of co-authoring a book on Orthodox Christian Marriage with Ireni Attia, and one of the things we discussed was anger. My initial attitude was that anger has no place in a truly healthy, happy relationship. But working with a professional in Ireni, she helped me to realise that anger is a very normal human emotion that is neither good or bad in itself. It is how you use it that matters. The more I thought about it, the more I realised she is right: psychologically, biblically, and philosophically.

It is a basic psychological principle that merely suppressing or burying very real feelings inside us is never good. The fact is, I get angry, and to pretend otherwise can only cause harm to my own mental health, and to my relationships. Such a denial is unsustainable in the long term. But I’ll leave the psychological dimension to the experts (you can check out Ireni’s section in the book).

Biblically, I was astonished that I never picked up on this before. Our modern sensitivities tend to downplay the anger inherent in Christ’s driving moneychangers from the temple:


Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:12–13).


I simply cannot imagine Jesus gently strolling up to the moneychanging table, smiling and passing a few polite pleasantries, and then taking permission: “Would you mind terribly if I turned your table over now, sir?” Continue reading “On Anger”

God Does Not Want You To Be Comfortable.


The answer is undoubtedly YES – it is God’s will for you to prosper! … I love the fact that God actually gets pleasure from our prosperity. Think about it: it makes God happy when you prosper … let me clarify the point that wealth and riches are just one aspect of prosperity.

Being prosperous includes your health and your relationships … A completely prosperous person walking in the fullness of God has it all.

Houston, B. (1999). You Need More Money: Discovering God’s Amazing Financial Plan for Your Life. Maximised Leadership Incorporated, pp. 55–57.



“A completely prosperous person walking in the fullness of God has it all.”

That single sentence from Houston’s book captures beautifully the heart of the Health and Wealth Gospel. This distortion of the true Christian Gospel is just the extreme expression of a very human tendency that lies in the hearts of us all, the tendency to use God as a tool for getting what we want. We think in terms of what satisfies our basic human instincts: physical safety and health; avoidance of poverty, disease, humiliation, failure; etc. That is what we want God for: to make us comfortable.

But quite often, God doesn’t want us to be comfortable. He wants us to be comforted. Let me explain this very important difference. Continue reading “God Does Not Want You To Be Comfortable.”

Competition or Nobility?

Portrait of a noble man - French 17th century, circle of Hyacinthe Rigaud


In an age of equality and democracy, a word like ‘nobility’ has a bad taste about it. It can bring to mind selfish, wealthy aristocrats living off the blood, sweat, and tears of the poor, caring nothing for their welfare, so long as they get what they want from them.


But of course, that’s the wrong kind of nobility. In St Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he lists “whatever things are noble” as one of the things we ought to train our minds and hearts to rest upon:


Finally, brethren,
whatever things are true,
whatever things are noble,
whatever things are just,
whatever things are pure,
whatever things are lovely,
whatever things are of good report,
if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—
meditate on these things.
Philippians 4:8.


The Greek word we translate as “noble” here is σεμνός (semnós), from a root word σέβομαι (sébomai) meaning to revere or adore. So, something that is semnós is something that is worthy of reverence or adoration.


But the traits that St Paul reveres and adores may not necessarily be the traits we revere and adore today. For example, in the corporate world, Continue reading “Competition or Nobility?”

19 Covid-19 Blessings

The coronavirus pandemic has hit, and our lives have changed dramatically; possibly in some ways, permanently. The dark side of the pandemic no doubt fills your screens and devices for large chunks of the day, so here, I want to highlight the brighter side. “Every cloud has a silver lining” is a hackneyed cliché, yet no less true for that. And of course, the Christian lives according to the foundational principle that good is always ultimately stronger than evil. We find this principle all over the Bible—here is a small sample:


Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy,
for though I have fallen, yet will I arise,
because even if I should sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me (Micah 7:8).

And we know that all things work together
for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28).

Not that I speak in regard to need,
for I have learned in whatever state I am,
to be content:
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.
Everywhere and in all things I have learned
both to be full and to be hungry,
both to abound and to suffer need.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11–13).

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).


What matters in life is not that bad things happen to us. What really matters is what we make of the things that happen to us, good or bad. It was bad that Christ was crucified, but He turned it into the most stunning act of self-sacrificial love by humbly accepting it and even praying for the ones who put Him to death, and then defeating death by His resurrection. Merely complaining about our troubles diminishes us as human beings and makes us passive victims. Accepting the situation and using it to transform ourselves for the better makes us victors, just like Christ.

So, in that spirit, here are 19 blessings we might derive from the curse of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Continue reading “19 Covid-19 Blessings”

Being Orthodox Part 15: Engaging the World

Should an Orthodox Christian engage with social trends like Harry Potter?
Should an Orthodox Christian engage with social trends like Harry Potter?

What is the relationship between the Christian and the world? Should a Christian isolate herself from the world in order to find holiness and goodness? Or does a Christian have a responsibility to participate in the world around her?


One of the things people notice about Orthodox Christianity is its strong focus on monasticism. Monks and nuns, and consecrated servants like deacons and deaconesses are valued very highly, and Orthodox faithful often speak as though their lives are clearly superior to those of the “common” faithful who live “in the world”, in secular society, getting married, having children, holding down jobs and paying mortgages. While there is certainly much to admire in those who take up the cross of consecrated life, there is also an important thread that runs through ancient Christian thinking that brings some balance to this view. For example, there are the many writings of the ancient Fathers of the Church that speak very highly indeed of the virtues of family life and see the family as an icon of divine love in diverse ways. There are stories of great ascetic saints like St Anthony and St Macarius being led by God to meet some “common” Christian individuals living the family life in the world, and being told that these “common” Christians excel even these heroes of monasticism in the eyes of God, simply by living a life of sincere divine love.


Most readers are not living the consecrated life (nor am I really qualified to write about it) so let us focus instead on what it means to be a “common” Christian, living “in the world”. Are we meant to be an active part of this world, or are we meant to be sojourners: strangers passing through a foreign land in which we never feel at home? There are passages in the Bible that suggest that we must be “the light of the world”, yet there are others that suggest we are but travellers who never put down roots. So which is it to be?

Continue reading “Being Orthodox Part 15: Engaging the World”