Orthodoxy and the Paranormal

OrthoAnalyika Shownotes: 10 January 2010

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Christ is born! Glorify Him!

There is a charge that is often made against the Orthodox Church and Christianity in general that it is not relevant. That it does not have anything to add to the lives of the modern man or woman that can not be done more efficiently in some other way. So for instance, they will argue that the socialization benefits of a Christian community can be gained through sports or music, moral instruction can be given by good people in secular institutions like schools, and spiritual growth can take place through fellowship with friends, personal meditation, or even a walk through the park. When considered this way, is it any wonder that the pews or our parishes are empty?

Of course, we can respond to this charge of irrelevancy head on – for example, by trying to make sure that our parishes offer these benefits in a way that rivals or surpasses secular institutions. But if we do this – if we think this way – then we are missing the point; and if we, as individuals, find ourselves thinking in this way [i.e. thinking of Church as just one of the many things we do], then we are no longer walking the Christian path to perfection and are unlikely to enjoy the true benefits of our relationship with God and His Church. We are unlikely to enjoy “church” any more than people who evaluate and compare their marriages to relations they have (or could have) with other people are really going to enjoy the benefits of their union with their husbands and wives. For married men and women, the way to a more perfect and joyful union with their spouses is to recognize the special role their husbands and wives play in their lives, to immerse themselves in selfless devotion, and to recognize that no other relationships can ever be allowed to replace – or even compete with – the union between husband and wife. Married men and women must recognize that no relationship that is not compatible with a chaste marital union can even be considered, much less entertained or embraced. Of course, a happy marriage can serve to bless and increase the joy we have with friends, families, and coworkers, – and this joy can certainly reciprocate back into the marriages themselves – ; but the commitment to the marital union should never be supplanted or undermined. Thinking of marriage as just another relationship won’t just suck the joy out it, it will keep people from enjoying the sanctifying grace of every relationship. They all become transactions or short term fixes, valuable only for their superficial benefits. Life becomes empty and dead, a series of events that will – at best – only distract us from our emptiness. The bottom line is that married men and women need to enjoy the Mystery of their Sacramental Union in order to enjoy everything else.

But as with St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: I am not really speaking of marriage, but of the Church.

The huge number of divorces, unhealthy marriages, and the ubiquity of fornication and cohabitation throughout this country show that we have missed the point about marriage. Declining Church attendance and the growing number of people who are completely apathetic about what our society refers to as “organized religion” shows that we have missed the point about Christ and Orthodox Christianity. Well, having spent time in many bureaucratic organizations, I can tell you that there is nothing “organized” about Orthodoxy and that there is no replacement for the Christian life to be found in the mundane, secular world. If we turn our parishes into organizations that simply offer religious and spiritual services to the community; if we allow ourselves to treat Christianity as just one of the things we do; then we are wasting our time.

None of us have time to waste, and I have no intention of wasting my own or yours. That is not why you are here today, and it is not why I gave up a successful career to serve as your priest. Much more importantly – and this is the point of today’s lesson – , it is not why God emptied Himself to become a babe in Bethlehem.

Today is the Nativity. If we take this opportunity – away from all the distractions of this world – to allow the great mystery of the event we are celebrating to penetrate our minds and hearts, it will transform our membership in this community from a pleasant obligation, to a life-changing and deifying blessing.

So let’s take a moment to unwrap this “Christmas gift”: why is it that you like Christmas? Why do you look forward to it? Children will tell you that it is the excitement of exchanging of gifts that they love the most; others will tell you how much they enjoy time with family, and how Christmas dinners help us reconnect with each other and with the fond memories of times gone by; others will share their great fondness for their cultural traditions: things like Svyatyy Vechir, caroling, advent wreaths, and midnight masses; others enjoy the food – especially coming as it does at the end of forty days of vegan fasting; all of us enjoy the music.

These are all beautiful things, and it is a sign of a healthy culture that such things are associated with the Holy Day of Nativity. All of these things are nice on their own – we exchange gifts at birthdays, spend time together with family at Thanksgiving, sing songs and enjoy our cultural heritages at weddings; and so on. You can have all these activities without Christ and without Christmas. But all these things – the gifts, the music, the culture, the time together – take on a special and deeper meaning – they truly flourish – when they grow out of the deeper roots of a Christian life and Christian worship.

Before I was blessed to come here and serve full-time, I remember how Monday morning conversations at work were about one of two things: “did you see the game” and “so… what did you do this weekend”. The answers were predicable after a while, and, given that we were all boring suburban bureaucrats, generally pretty dull. So one day, I decided to change things up a bit. After everyone else in our lunch group had shared the fun they had had grilling out, or going to visit the in-laws, or painting the house, they finally asked me. We were close, so I knew I could tell the truth. I put on my best “awe shucks” smile then said something like this; “well, we went out to the mall on Saturday so we could buy some new socks at Target… then on Sunday I served in the Holy of Holies and called upon the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine on the altar in into the Body and Blood of the Living God. Then I took that Body and Blood and shared it with everyone who came forward so that we could all become perfected in Christ.” They appreciated the irony for a minute, then we soon started talking about the normal stuff like the utility of always wearing black socks and which stores had the best selection of them.

When you think about Christmas, it is fine to remember the many wonderful activities that go with it; just as it is fine to appreciate the many practical benefits of parish membership and married life. But if Christ is not the center of our marriage, then it will eventually become tedious; and if Christ is not the center of our parish, we will lose people to places that offer better activities; and if Christ is not the focus of the Nativity, then we are missing the point of everything.

God, the only One who ever brought anything out of nothing, who created this world and everything in it; the one cannot be praised enough to match even a fraction of the Glory He is due; the One who was begotten into perfection before time itself; looked on us in love; He saw mankind’s suffering; He saw YOUR suffering; He saw how mankind groaned in agony and loneliness; He saw how YOU groan in agony and loneliness; and He lowered Himself; He emptied Himself; He gave up the glory that is His due; He did this to take on flesh and save mankind from agony and loneliness; to take on flesh and save YOU from agony and loneliness.

This is the mystery of Christmas; eternal, perfect and unboundable God; Incarnate in Bethlehem for the salvation of mankind. God living as flesh and blood in the manger two thousand years ago – and His eternal and life giving Flesh and Blood here on this altar today. Contemplate this Mystery. Allow it to penetrate your mind, your heart, and your body. Let it change your life.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!



Q: Is mandatory (or graded) charity salvific? Doesn’t the Bible say that charity should be done in secret and without thought of reward?

A; This is a good question – and you make some important points – but I want to challenge you so that you can decide if it is really as black and white as you suggest:

If your parents make you eat, do you still get the nutritional value of the food? You will, unless you get so upset at them for “making you eat” that you refuse to eat or (as works better in the case at hand) you eat it with a bitter heart, it sours in your stomach, and you end up puking it back up (yuck!).

The spiritual equivalent is choosing to accept the spiritual nourishment being “forced” on you through charitable goods – or being bitter about it, etc.

Again, your point is a good one. A similar situation in many parishes has to do with paying dues to be a member. This does not seem healthy. Giving should be voluntary to be healthy – and your paraphrase of the relevant scripture is apt in this case, too. So I am very sympathetic to your point.

But let me challenge with another scriptural example: that of slavery. Slavery is wrong – no one should own another person. But the scriptures are clear that the slave is to find opportunities for sanctification (by loving/serving others, to include his “master”) even while having to endure such an unbiblical/unhealthy/unjust/wicked situation. The same is true for poverty and terminal illness: there is rarely anything “fair” or “just” in them; nor are they usually “voluntary”; but in order for these situations to sanctify us, we embrace they voluntarily (in imitation of Christ). The alternative is usually bitterness and/or fatalism.



Recall of Do-It-Yourself Manuals. Is there any more an apt metaphor for modern spirituality?!

The Brain is no good at keeping track of time. Good thing that the rest of our bodies are so good at it! My receding hairline is like the rings on a tree – and inch for every decade; moreso for my expanding waistline!

Health Care and “Saying ‘sorry’”. Another argument for local medicine.

Google Earth helps find El Dorado. A silver lining for Amazon deforestation.


Volya / Freedom Segment


Interview on Orthodoxy and the Paranormal
On Sunday evening, Paul and Ben Eno interviewed me for their show “Behind the Paranormal”. I went on the show because I am very familiar with Paul’s work and I trusted him (and Ben). This trust proved to be very well founded. I wasn’t real clear on everything – especially the last question on whether wicca is devil worship (we ran out of time), but what can you expect for an hour-long show? I look forward to your comments (especially any errors you hear; what I covered that you think I should not have; and what I should have covered that didn’t).

These are the notes I wrote while preparing for the show – we did not get to all of the stuff I thought we might, and we got to some things I had not prepared for. Paul and Ben post podcasts of their show here. They seemed interested in having me back on, so your feedback would be very helpful.

What got you interested in the paranormal?

I grew up with a strong sense of wonder, joy and awe about the world. This was nourished by a loving family and community, lots of reading, plenty of adventures, and a really good church. I am constantly amazed by the bizarre, beautiful, and terrifying things that we encounter in our daily lives.

But I have to admit at the outset, that I’m not really sure I understand the term “paranormal” – there is so much more to the world than meets the untrained eye; but that doesn’t make it “paranormal” or “supernatural”. It’s all just part of a world that was made in such a way as to allow us to continuously learn new things and grow into perfection. The only thing that is really “supernatural” or “beyond natural” is the infinite and eternal source of all goodness and light. In its essence, it is utterly unknowable. But even it is constantly revealed to us through certain mysteries, disciplines, and mystical experiences.

FWIW, it was this sense of awe and wonder that led me to really embrace traditional Christian teachings and study for the priesthood. In fact, as I was growing up, I assumed that everyone wanted to pursue a religious vocation as much as I did! As a Christian, I live in a world of wonder that borders on sublime inexplicability all the time – and as a priest, I get to help others experience this same thing!

My view of the paranormal:

The basic idea is that we were made to be one with one another and with the perfection that is God. Orthodox Christianity offers a clear method for growing in this unity. Because the center of the Unity is pure and perfect goodness, our journey into it is eternal and leads to constant growth and new experiences of beauty. (see Gospel of St. John, especially chapter 17). So my view of the paranormal is seen in terms of this journey and the resulting revelations (as well as the many things that try to distract us from it). If we are living correctly, then the border between our perception and perfection is continually growing and evolving. In Orthodoxy, we call this Mystery. It is not something that is hidden, but something unseen that is continually working its way into resolution.

Most of this looks mundane from the outside – it doesn’t look paranormal, and it won’t get me a tv show – but how can anything that is touched by the grace of God be normal? So my interaction with the paranormal includes things like spiritual jujitsu and counseling; to prayerfully reinvigorating my connection with people I love, specific saints and angels, and the departed; to simple adoration and worship of God; to some of the most incredible supernatural experiences anyone could imagine. If fact, just this morning, I served at the altar surrounded by a host of angels, archangels, cherubim, and seraphim; then the Holy Spirit moved through me to mysteriously change the bread and wine we had offered on the altar to the Body and Blood of the God-man Jesus Christ. I was then able not only to participate in this myself, but I was able to share it with others for our mutual sanctification.

To get more specific… as you know, I am a great fan of your work, so I know that your explanations work within the worldview of the multiverse. I think this worldview has a lot of explanatory power – even if it turns out to be wrong in some scientific sense, it is a wonderful metaphor for helping us understand a lot of things (just as evolution becomes a wonderful metaphor for our communal sanctification in the work of Fr. Pierre Teilhard). But even if it is accurate, I do not think that it necessarily explains everything that gets called paranormal, any more than secular 20th century psychology did. For instance, it may be the case that many things that get called ghosts or demons are really just some kind of transdimensional activity of otherwise mundane people and things; but that doesn’t negate the existence of beings made entirely of light and energy any more than the fact that some spiritual experiences are artificially induced by Dr. Persinger’s “God helmet” or chemical imbalances or whatever means that some spiritual experiences aren’t the result of real supernatural encounters.

Is your view of the paranormal “Orthodox”?

I would never intentionally teach anything that was not Orthodox – I believe that Orthodoxy provides the safest and healthiest way to achieve perfection. So everything I have said is Orthodox. All of these things are intimately imbedded within our prayers, services, hagiographies, and scripture – all the things that we refer to as “Tradition”. But not everyone is willing to engage all the various subcultures in their own language – some prefer to simply preserve the knowledge in the form it was passed on to them (I think you have run into some of these, Paul). But others are evangelical explorers – we love discovering how God is being revealed in new places, and then to work with those there to perfect this revelation in them and in us.

Christians believe that everyone is imprinted with God’s image – love is the way that the image of God in each person resonates with the image of God in another, and this allows God to be revealed in them and in their relationship with one another. This is the mechanism of our sanctification: both the horizontal and vertical Unity is strengthened through our application of self-emptying love for others.

So my view is Orthodox. I am using the language of resonance, harmony, and unity; others would use the language of spiritual warfare. You use the language of the multiverse. We are generally talking about the same thing. I do tend to be more charitable than some other Orthodox theologians – most notably people who like books like Fr. Seraphim Rose’ “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future”. There are Orthodox Fundamentalists who seem to think that everything that does not have the Orthodox imprimatur is demonic. This goes too far. And to flip the same coin over, not everything that even pious Orthodox Christians believe is true – I have mentioned the danger of fundamentalism, but there are also the oft-encountered dangers of relying on superstition and bad ad-hoc theology.

The thing that drives us all crazy – it gets mentioned on this show and on Coast to Coast pretty often – is when religious leaders (and I would include some of my brother priests in this category) refuse to address the real questions that people have; refuse to help them frame and understand weird stuff that happens to them in words that they will understand; and to help them recover and heal from harmful encounters – spiritual, paranormal, or otherwise. As you are so fond of saying; “this is just not good enough.” I agree. I also sympathize with another thing y’all are fond of saying on this show; “Everything we think we know is wrong – and today is the first day of school.”

[to summarize] Doctrine is important – it defines healthy practice and establishes core Truths. But I agree with the advice attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel. And if you have to, use words.” Most of our theories about this world will probably end up being nonsense in the long run – they certainly fall short of describing the perfection that is eternal and unchanging – , but the love that we share with one another will endure forever. Love, not specific doctrine, is the real lesson to be learned and shared.

Comment on Paranormal Scene Today

Dangerous. We need to be more serious about how we treat one another, and how we treat the supernatural. Orthodoxy teaches how to do this. The earthly center of Orthodox Christianity – where it is revealed, preserved and passed down in its purist form, is not the individual with their Bible; or the religious leader or hierarchy somewhere (although we have these things – my Bible is right here next to me, and my “pope” is in Constantinople); but (earthly center of our faith is found) in the ascetic experience of monastics. Through millennia of single-minded devotion, the Holy Spirit has led Orthodox monastics to develop a set of disciplines that allow us to interact with the mundane and supernatural world safely.

This is the way of life that is taught –or should be taught – in every Orthodox parish, and it is useful for everyone. It includes disciplines like fasting (Orthodox are basically vegan for half the year), prayer (all Orthodox have a “prayer rule” that they are encouraged to follow), sacrificial giving, simplicity, and humility. These are some of the spiritual exercises that enable you to thrive no matter what challenges people and principalities send at you. They allow you to keep your feet planted on the rock no matter what storms come at you. People who go out in search of danger need to prepare first – you don’t go into battle without learning some basic skills beforehand. In spiritual warfare, if you don’t have control over your passions, then your enemies (whatever their form) will be able to manipulate you and ruin your life. If you cannot keep your cool in traffic or while settling a difficult dispute with family members, then you have no business leaving the trenches. Orthodox Christians take this stuff seriously because we believe it is real. FWIW, if listeners want a good introduction to this, then the Sayings of the Desert Fathers are a good place to start.

My own paranormal experience

I often think that I live in a different world than most people. Where I live, miracles are real, and the paranormal is normal. I walk in the same, but I try to see it in the light of Christ, with the eyes of love. As we grow in perfection, we see with new eyes and live with new, more highly attuned, senses. I guess my paranormal experiences range from seemingly normal things like this conversation we are having (it is much more than a factual transaction!), to my priestly service here at St. Michael “hospital”. Most of my paranormal experiences are very positive.

How has my background prepared me for the paranormal?

I have what I think is a useful combination. I am naturally intuitive (psychologically: I am an INFP on the Myers-Briggs) who was trained as a scientist (positivist; research design, testing of hypotheses, analysis of variance, etc.). My years as a full-time intelligence analyst helped me by exposing to more data and experiences. I was also able (as both an academic and an analyst) to study psychology and group dynamics. So I am able to evaluate situations both logically and intuitively. My theological training really helped, too – although the services and prayers of the Church are the best teachers.


On using love verses demons/parasites:

I am intrigued. If they are just persons from other universes, then this will be as effective as it is with people whose natural residence is this place and time. If they are demonic, then it may still work, but it will be dangerous. I’m not just relying on my own opinions here, but that of the Church as expressed through her saints. There is a view that the angelic nature is fixed (they have free will, but their decisions regarding being good or bad is fixed because they made them with full knowledge) – St. John of Damascus shared this view. But there is also one that allows for the continual perfection of all things, and prays for the return of Satan to the Holy Unity. Origin had this view, but so did St. Gregory of Nyssa and, to a lesser extent, St. Ambrose. The danger is that many demons are brilliant – they see into your mind and emotions (remember they communicate without sound waves) and will try to use your weaknesses in order to manipulate you and feed on you. So, while you can and should love and pray for the sanctification of all creation – to include demons – loving them does not mean you trust them. Good practice for this kind of warfare involves the disciplines of prayer and fasting, and especially the most difficult of all the Christian disciplines: loving your neighbor. Most of us are distracted from the love of even our closest friends by trivial “hot buttons”. Again, if someone cannot keep their cool in traffic or while discussing a difficult issue with a loved one, then they have no business trying this. We can learn to love well, but it takes practice.

Random comment:

Many people think they understand Christianity, and they reject it. But most who do this have a very superficial or uncharitable understanding of it. Many people are amazed to find out how much more spiritual, deeper, and relevant other religions are than their former Christian religion was. But the Christianity that they rejected was often that which is taught to children – they have rarely read the kind of things that I have been talking about. They are also affected not by the teachings of the Church – which are deep and relevant – but by the many charlatans and hypocrites who have hidden behind its rituals and institutions to hide their own vices.


  1. I don’t understand how he’s using the word “fundamentalist.” This is a convenient term to “discredit” anyone who is pious and actually believes in Christianity.

    • I assure you that I was NOT using it in this way – as most readers could tell by the context. The term fundamentalist *CAN* be used without charity, but I wonder if you might be reading that application into it here. I did not use the term to “discredit” anyone but to distinguish the approach of Orthodox theologians like Fr. Seraphim Rose from Orthodox theologians who approach things differently. Interesting that you would question my piety and commitment to Orthodoxy though. Did the interview elicit any other thoughts? God bless you and thank you for your comment.