21 December 2015

The Rosary: The Institution of the Eucharist

Devotion to the elements of Our Lord's Passion aside, it is in Eucharistic devotions that there is a most clear division between east and west.  Although both teach exactly the same content, both use very different words to very different ends.  Thomas Aquinas and his students made this most clear in their ideas of what exactly is Transubstantiation.  The east does not have such clear definitions about what happens not about when it happens.  In certain ways the bread is holy from the moment it is formed into a loaf and stamped with the holy seal. It is treated so even before the service starts: prayers of, if you will, pre-consecration happen well-before the scheduled "start" of liturgy.  In a real sense, the Liturgy is always on-going and our human actions just "connect" with the continual divine action. Thus some Roman Catholic devotions seem, at their heart, to objectify and idolize the consecrated elements in a needless way.  Speaking of Our Lord as a "Prisoner (of Love) in the Tabernacle"  - a common-place in a certain mode of Roman Catholic piety - seems very odd.

Even though in the Western Rites of the Orthodox Church there is the feast of Corpus Christi and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, these things do not exist in most Byzantine Rites. One must look - as below - to devotions before and after communion to find what the East teaches on this matter.  I have used the Canon of Preparation for Holy Communion to provide the texts below.

The embolism I uses in this decade after the Holy Name is ...giving us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink...

20 December 2015

O Virgin - 8th Advent Meditation

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Why marvel ye at me?

Today, in the Byzantine Rite, is the Sunday before the Nativity and the Gospel assigned is that of the Genealogy of Jesus from Matthew.  It's rough going for the Deacon reading because it's one hard name after another.  I'm sure it's equally fun in languages other than English.  In his sermon after, our Archdeacon touched on a lot of points but one struck me as the answer to "Why marvel ye at me?"  From Solomon's adulterous parentage to slavery in Babylon, from Gentile  blood to Egyptian poverty, the ancestry of  Jesus has something to scandalize nearly every portion of the Roman world, and he was conceived out of wedlock!

Mary, in Orthodoxy, is sinless, but not without scandal. The family tree of Jesus is of royal lineage, but he's not a direct heir to the throne.  He is of the House of David but only via cadency, He's less royalty and more like all the folks who can claim Queen Victoria as a member of their family tree.  Mary is indeed a Marvel: fulfilling the prophecy without coming close to fulfilling the expectations. She is - just as her son is - exactly what was promised and not at all what anyone was looking for.

She, devoid of human value and without connections or power - and still the subject of gossip in the Talmud - is exactly perfect as the mother of the God who needs his diapers changed.

Her son will die a state-sponsored death as a condemned revolutionary, betrayed into the hands of a colonial power by his own people.  But that - as with Mary - is God showing us that nothing is out of his hands. The worse things we as humans can do to ourselves or others can, in his hands, become the salvation of the whole world.

Bread containing the dead skin flakes and sweat of you and me - both of us sinners - becomes the flesh of the God who needed his diapers changed by his sinless mother who was a scandal in her town.  God takes what we have.  Our cultural failures, our sins, our loss, our personal fouls and parking tickets, offered to God, become what saves us.

And sinners become divine.

Merry Christmas.

15 December 2015

O Emmanuel - 7th Advent Meditation

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Emmanuel means "God with us."

In the Eastern Rite, at Great Compline on 24 December (and again before Theophany) the clergy and choir sing "God is with us" over and over.  "God is with us! Understand this, O ye nations and submit yourselves for God is with us!"  At the same time a cantor is reading verses from the prophet Isaiah.


It can sound as if we're singing "God's on our side so here's a finger for you heathen."

But that's not what's being said here.

Emmanuel means "God is with us and not against us".  Not "God's with us and not you".

St Paul reminds us, "Quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiae, in caelestibus."   For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. - Ephesians 6:12.  We have no human enemies. Our mission, to humans, is to save them: we can count no one as outside of our evangelistic reach.  God's with all humans in his image.  It is entirely impossible for God not to be with that human being over there: although it is possible for them to spend their entire life pushing God away and to pretend God's not there with us all. In the end, God's presence may be rejected forever, but he's not going away.

Our enemies, though: the ones God's not with, are the demons: the ones who don't want us to be with God who cry out always, "careful, don't get sucked in there, you have to be yourself! Stand up to him!  Tell him to back off, this is your space: you need your space!"

Emmanuel.  God is with us!

The verse says God is the long-expected, but he comes in a way unexpected. Islam and Judaism both say that God has no body. Christianity, to the contrary, says God has both flesh and blood, has known death. God had diapers. God had the normal human functions of eating, drinking, of urination and defecation. God, being a male human, went through puberty and probably knows the heart-break of acne, a voice cracking at important moments during his bar mitzvah, and the teenage angst of involuntary erections. The scriptures say he who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps - but God is with us and he sleeps, dreams, tosses and turns, snores maybe, passing out on the ground from exhaustion, God wakes to find a stone has made a bruise on his back. These simple physical realities and embarrassments are part of being human and an absolute scandal to those who say God has no body.

God is with us!

My favorite image of the young Jesus is of a young toddler messing his clothes because he hasn't figured out how to "go to the bathroom".  Younger than that and Jesus was probably naked a lot because that's what you do when you don't want to worry about messing up clothes with "baby functions".  Much easier just to bathe the baby...

God is with us!

As Fr Olivier Clement tells us, "True mysticism is to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary": in  every human action, God is with us. God nursed at his mother's breast, teethed on her fingers, woke her up for a 2am feeding.  Joseph, it's your turn...   Yes, honeyzzzzz.

God is with us: in this life, in this world.  Everything is made a sacrament.

Recently in Spain a party stole over 200 consecrated hosts (the modern practice of "communion in the hand" comes into its own) and used them in an act of desecration called "art".  It is possible to use any sacrament in the wrong way: it is not, as St Paul says, appropriate to discuss what they do. But any sacrament, from communion to marital love can be desecrated.  Any action of God in this world can be abused from birth to death. To be honest, I do sometimes get angry enough that I want to forget God has claimed the vengeance for himself, but he has and I cannot undo that. Desecration of the Holy Eucharist no less than desecration of marriage or human life is left for God to be the vengeful party.  But God is with us means God is with the humans doing the desecration no less than those of us who weep at the same actions.  It is a human doing the desecration, yes, but the actions are those of the demons.  They have no bodies and need us to do their deeds.

God is with us: we can do his deeds as well, in the body, as he was.  Our job is not to avenge God: but to be God's actions of reconciliation and love even to those who are sinners.

God is with all of us sinners against the demons.

At Christmas, we celebrate wholeheartedly, the incarnation of God.  But we tend to sentimentalize it.  We make it about this tender moment "round yon virgin, Mother and Child."  We get wrapped up in a swaddling cloth of childhood memories and songs about a 'sleigh bells in the snow".  But Christmas is about the most horrifying event in the world: the maker of all who is too large to be contained in the physical world, becomes a zygote, and then a baby in the womb of a human woman.

God is with us.

Understand this: and submit yourself.

10 December 2015

O King - 6th Advent Meditation

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

It seems there is a silence in Orthodox theology that is not so in the west.  This is not a deficit, this is cultural experience - a difference in things in the west that was, largely, not there in the east. This difference is conversations about democratic government.  For the entirety of the first millennium of the Christian Era, all Christians lived in monarchies.  These would have been "absolute" monarchies to one degree or another, but everyone had a king. Other forms of government evolved in the West towards their modern forms only after the Great Schism. Yet, at the same time, all the Christians of the East - Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, etc - continued to live in Monarchies (Christian or not)  and after that, in autocracies of one form or another, either Muslim or Soviet-style dictatorships, and although a few traditionally Orthodox lands have moved to other forms, no one has, for more than 100 years, lived in what we might call a fully functioning European-style democracy.  It is this lack of experience that has resulted in a large silence on the part of our Bishops, elders and saints to talk about being Christians in democracies.  (This did, finally, begin to change towards the end of the last century.)

We have very little theological base on which to read about Christ as our King: having earthly Kings (who were largely Christian) and not living in democracies we never worried about "Christian Laws".  When the state became non- or anti-Christian we shouldered on under persecution.  We simply had no power in those cultures to attempt (or effect) change.

In the west this was not so.  But even there the Church was late to the discussion - only about 100 years ahead of the east, in fact.

I've been reading up a lot on the Roman Catholic idea of the Social Kingship of Christ. I will try to keep this Advent meditation away from the "I took a class once/I read that book once" level of discourse.  I do not know enough about this doctrine and, of course, being Orthodox, I disagree with any idea that the Roman church is the sine qua non of earthly manifestations of the Kingdom of God.  But that said, I think the idea is one that needs to be studied by the Orthodox.  In the Western Rite we observe the feast of Christ the King, which feast on the last Sunday of October is not of ancient origin, but rather "Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical letter Quas primas, in response to growing nationalism and secularism" (quoth the wiki). The first observance of this festal innovation was on 31 October 1926.  I see not but that 89 years later we are still suffering from growing secularism. Nationalism won the day a while ago: we no longer think of our religion as our primary identity, or even our secondary one.

In many conversations one may encounter a cultural assumption that the laws of a state define what is good and true rather than only what is legal.  Recently I heard voiced a sense of surprise that the Roman and Orthodox Churches would not change their doctrines of marriage based on the decision of the US Supreme Court.  (I'm discussing this regardless of the obvious dismissal of those churches as existing outside the USA.)  The party clearly had no idea that the Church declares what is moral in the law of God and the laws of the state are judged moral or not by that same law. The Church, herself, has no power to change what God says, only to respond to it.  I think this surprise is because of the great silence I mentioned above.  We don't talk about the laws a lot - or about our Christian duties to legislate for God's kingdom.

O come, Desire of nations, bind,
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of peace.

When a Roman Catholic politician says she will not have an abortion - because it's a sin - but she will work to pass laws allowing others to get them, she has violated the teachings of her Church: there are documents, encyclicals, and saints to back that up.  This is not so in Orthodoxy even though our moral teaching is the same: we have no place to point and say, "See, Senator Snowe, you have violated the teachings of your Church by supporting these laws." Even now reading this some of my readers will say "but we are a democracy" implying thereby that Christians should not even attempt to legislate their morals into the laws of the land.  I, myself, hold a non-Christian gov't as a nullity, with no say over me beyond keeping the peace between persons - and our gov't is increasingly poor at that. Yet, is there an obligation to me as a Citizen of the Kingdom of God resident in this nation?

There is a slogan, "No Jesus, No Peace: Know Jesus, Know Peace." If we are living out the Gospel as our primary function (seek ye first the Kingdom of God) we will become good persons and, being good persons, we can be good residents of the place where we live, good neighbors, good friends and coworkers of those around us.  This is not the same as "nice" and "well respected".  Nor is it the same as "productive" or "partisan".  The Kingship of Christ is one of obligation rather than of accommodation: if one lives in the Kingdom of God, one is obligated to transform day-to-day life into that Kingdom.  A friend feeds the poor in his city, despite the fact that it is illegal to do so - as the Rabbis say it was also in ancient Sodom.  That is a moral thing to do and it makes him a good citizen - even as he violates the law.

The Kingship of Christ is a paradox, as we were taught by Jesus: the first are last, the last are first. The meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled with what they crave.  The rich, however, will be sent empty, away.

America is very rich.
And very empty: spiritually dead and also spiritually corrupting;in this we must agree with those radicals of another religion.
Where is your citizenship.
What is your primary identity?

How do you live the Kingdom present, despite the laws around you?

06 December 2015

That Poor Holy Family


I'm tired of people (Christians and not) hijacking Christmas for their politcal ends. The "poverty" of the Holy Family was not a thing at all until Francis of Assisi got obsessed with proving Jesus owned nothing. This was a serious theological debate in the 12th and 13th centuries and it has come down to us in the Christmas Story: Francis was the first person, we think, to set up a "living manger scene" and that's flavoured our western read of the Christmas Story ever since, especially among Protestants who divested themselves of Tradition and bought into as much sentimentality as possible.

In honour of the Protestant appeal to Sola Scriptura, let us look at the Gospel first: there is no way at all you can read the story of the Holy Family in Luke 1 and 2 and get the idea of poverty or indigency. Mary's family is wealthy enough to send her - on her own - off to stay with her cousin for six months. In a culture where families depended on the labour of children to maintain the household, this is important. They were able to send her to her cousin's house to work for that household instead.

When the holy family got to Bethleham, there is no evidence in the text of "evil landlords keeping a poor family out in the cold." Rather the inns are full. There's a difference of import there: at best there are too many Shriners in town for a convention. That happened a couple of years ago in San Francisco: the America's Cup was here and there wasn't a room to be had for love or money anywhere within 50 miles. My parents tried.

On this topic Church Tradition in Orthodoxy and in Roman Catholicism (although often ignored in both) teaches a very different story:

When the time came for Mary to be betrothed, all the traditions are in agreement: Joseph was chosen because he was old enough and wealthy enough to care for the girl. Some accounts have him as old as 80! An image search on "Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary" will reveal no shortage of images of Joseph with grey hair and beard - as heads up this post.  I'm nearly willing to bet that the less grey his hair is, the more modern the image is. For as many men as might want a younger wife, we're very uncomfortable in our modern world with the idea of an arranged marriage to someone so old: but that is entierly in keeping with the Jewish Tradition.  Romance, however, and letting your daughter marry someone poor, is not, at all.

What we have - from Francis of Assisi to Francis of Rome today and every ECUSA sermon I've ever heard - is a reading into the text of modern political sensibilities. Many folks simply want Jesus to be poor and homeless for our own political ends.

One political thing I will take from the story of the Holy Familly: they followed without protest the orders of a foreign, colonizing power. Jesus and his parents never challenged the political authorities of his day - only the religious ones.

Try protesting in his name now.

I know, of course, that from the outside lookin in, both the traditional stories and the modern innovations are equally "reading in" to the text.  I'd rather side with Churh Tradition on this point, however.

05 December 2015

The Rosary: The Transfiguration

In the Mystery of the Transfiguration, God is revealed as he really is: a human man, fully divine, enfleshed, and loving us so dearly. In the Transfiguration the Son of God is revealed as God the Son. There are some religions that insist the divine has no body. They are wrong and are denying Christ who is God and Man in spite: those statements coming after God's Incarnation are a rejection of God.

The Transfiguration also reveals man as he really is: fully participating in the divine dance, as was intended to be our place before the Fall. Through Christ, the human and divine united, we are made one with God's divine energies but not his essence: Christ alone bears both humanity and divinity in full without loss or commingling. The only thing he doesn't carry is sin.

The Transfiguration reveals to his disciples, as the hymns show, that this is God and all that he does he does of his own will.

In praying this Mystery, I add "... who was Transfigured on Tabor" after the Holy Name.

O Dawn - the 5th Advent Meditation

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.

O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

This is my favourite of the Great O Antiphons, for entirely non-liturgical reasons: this verse is one of several paraphrased by the Orthodox Anglo-Saxon Poet, Cynewulf in his long poem Crist or, in modern English, Christ.  In Anglo Saxon and in English, the lines run:

Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.

Hail Earendel brightest of angels,
over Middle Earth sent to men.

It was this text that gave J.R.R. Tolkien the name and purpose of his character, Eärendil the Mariner. Oddly enough I learned about the Great O Antiphons (back in 1982 or 83) by reading about this connection with Tolkien and then doing research.  That was before I had been exposed to western liturgy beyond Novus Ordo and late 70s ECUSA.  It was the dawn of a new world for me - connecting Tolkien's world that never was with parts of our world that were no longer.

Tolkien and his fellow writer, C.S. Lewis, knew that part of our modern problem is that our world is being destroyed - now, almost a century after their friendship, our world is nearly totally gone.  We used to live in a world peopled by angels and located in the middle: not geographically, but mentally, spiritually, between heaven and hell.  Now we are more than ever trapped in time, stranded between the past that cannot be and the future that is never.  The religion of our culture, Scientific Nihilism, has washed away all connection, all sense of a possibility of connection, replacing a Transpersonal God with what C.S. Lewis called "The Empirical Bogey:"
...the great myth of our century with its gasses and galaxies, its light years and evolutions, its nightmare perspectives of simple arithmetic in which everything that can possibly hold significance for the mind becomes the mere by-product of essential disorder... its flat superlatives, its clownish amazement that different things should be of different sizes, it's glib munificence of ciphers.
We pretend we have discovered the really awesome parts of the universe, when, in fact, all we have done is let our mind's impression of the Speed of Light create in us a false sense of awe at mere numbers. Numbers which we invented and to which we attach some sort of quasi-religious content.  We become over-awed by generating the emotions within ourselves at our own inventions, as a child might, looking too fondly at a sand castle she has built on the beach.

But we have discarded the Created Order: the reality that is there, no matter how much we ignore it, or imagine we've surpassed it.  We need the Dawn to show it to us.

As in the last antiphon we've got darkness and death again, this time running parallel to light and justice.  In the traditional liturgy this gets sung at Vespers on the 21st of December: the Solstice, the return of the Sun. Singing this verse creates the linking of Christ with the rising Sun, very literally in time and space.

A certain sort of political activist will often invoke Jesus as a supporter of "justice".  They do this without irony despite the fact that they would reject a vast majority of what Jesus stood for.  They make this rejection by saying that Jesus was merely human and often wrong based on the cultural biases of his time. But they are certain that any "outcast" calling for "justice" today would be supported by the Jesus they have invented as easily as science invents big numbers.  Justice, in this political dialect, usually means "supporting my political causes and damning my opposition".   Jesus is not invoked as in this Antiphon, as being, himself, the Sun of Justice.

 The Sun of Justice is a line taken from the Prophecy of Malachias 4:1-4

For behold the day shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd. And you shall tread down the wicked when they shall be ashes under the sole of your feet in the day that I do this, saith the Lord of hosts. Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, the precepts, and judgments.
Ecce enim dies veniet succensa quasi caminus: et erunt omnes superbi et omnes facientes impietatem stipula: et inflammabit eos dies veniens, dicit Dominus exercituum, quae non derelinquet eis radicem et germen. Et orietur vobis timentibus nomen meum sol justite, et sanitas in pennis ejus: et egrediemini, et salietis sicut vituli de armento. Et calcabitis impios, cum fuerint cinis sub planta pedum vestrorum, in die qua ego facio, dicit Dominus exercituum. Mementote legis Moysi servi mei, quam mandavi ei in Horeb ad omnem Israel, praecepta et judicica. 
The Justice that Jesus offers is for those that fear God and do all that he commanded through Moses: they who do so shall tread down all the proud people who do wickedly as ashes under their feat.  But you can't have God's Justice for you to do something God has commanded you not to do, for there is no Justice beyond God's law.

Here again we are being presented with the Empirical Bogey.  We are convinced that our minds can discover things and then we invest those things with quasi-religious value. The Jesus we have discovered supports us, not those stodgy religious sirts. Freedom is not "the Free human being who is most himself in the will of God" but rather "I can do what I want."  As I noted last time, the Evil One makes us hate what is good for us and love what is bad for us. In fact this is such a good trick of his, that he makes us think the bad stuff really is us. Thus Justice does not mean justly following God's law and creating civil laws that enable  others to do so as well.  Justice means, "I can do what I want and you can be punished for thinking or saying or living as if I shouldn't do it."

Which is  to say that Jesus didn't teach a "justice" that would have been recognized as such by anyone marching in our streets today. In fact, Jesus colluded with the unjust systems of his day: paying taxes, respecting civil authorities. He makes it rather clear that those authorities would not be there (just or not) if God had not put them there.  In the matter of "judge not", God will judge authorities that act outside of his divine Justice.  That's not for us to worry about (unless you happen to be in political office).  Our job, as Christians, working our our salvation in fear and trembling, is to live in God's Just Law, no matter what the world lives in.  Paul, writing to Philemon, does not challenge the system of slavery in the Roman world, but rather he tells Philemon to act in God's Justice towards his brother in Christ, the slave Onesimus, suggesting even that Philemon will do more (following God's Love) than Paul even suggests in his letter. Paul doesn't protest in the streets to change the laws: but he reminds Christians that they have a higher law to follow

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

So it is with us, today looking at the Antiphon, and for all time.  We know that Justice, as such, come from God in the person of Jesus.  Our secular laws, as such, mean precious little.  The traditional prayer for civil authorities from the Russian Prayerbook makes this clear:
Save, O Lord, and have mercy on our president and all in authority throughout the world, commanders-in-chief of armies and navies and airfleets, governors of provinces and cities, and all the Christ-loving navies, armies and police; protect their power with peace, and subdue under their feet every enemy and foe, and speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Thy Holy Church, and for all Thy people, and grant that in their calm we too may lead a quiet and peaceful life in true belief, in all piety and honesty.
Civil gov't is there only to keep the peace so the church can do her work: this can be done with the second amendment, or without it, with socialism, capitalism or the odd hybrid we now have.  As long as there is civil peace the Church can do her job. Be mindful that this prayer was also prayed for the leaders of the Soviet state.  ...speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Thy Holy Church, and for all Thy people, and grant that in their calm we too may lead a quiet and peaceful life in true belief, in all piety and honesty.

From the state all we want is to be left alone. We need Jesus for Justice: which is an interpersonal quality, not a legal standing.  All this world - including our gov'ts, our states, the religion of Scientific Nihilism and the Empirical Bogey - are all trapped in darkness and death.  We seek the dawn, Earendel, to show us the way out.

30 November 2015

O Key - 4th Advent Meditation

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open, and no one shuts, you shut, and no one opens: come, and lead the prisoner from jail, seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Jesus' Advent is rather both like and unlike Prometheus bringing fire: it's not enough that he has fire, he has to bring it to all of us. We must become fire.  What, exactly are you imprisoned by? The verse says "darkness and shadow of death".  Let us set aside "shadow of death" for a moment... but St Paul has some stuff to say about "darkness" in his Epistle to the Ephesians:
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief. Be ye not therefore partakers with them. For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth; Proving what is well pleasing to God: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For the things that are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of. But all things that are reproved, are made manifest by the light; for all that is made manifest is light.  
Ephesians 5:3-13
Even writing to the saints of God, he admits that "you were heretofore darkness"  something has happened, however, and the Ephesians are "now light in the Lord."   Nunc autem lux. - You are now light.  In the Sermon on the mount, Jesus says, Vos estis lux mundi. "You are the light of the world."

We do however, have a painful ministry: the purpose of light is to illuminate the darkness.

Tim Tebow, a professional football player, is getting a lot of press lately: his girlfriend broke up with him because he won't have sex with her prior to marriage. That's shining a light on the darkness and it's bothering people: so they are making fun of him for not committing fornication with Miss Universe.  This is the second girl to dump him for this reason, the last one being a Children's TV star.

I wish I had learned that lesson in my teens... I might not still be struggling with becoming an adult now. We're imprisoned in darkness.  The thing about darkness is you can't see how bad it all is.  When someone comes along and shines a light on it, you've got a choice to make: step away or yell at the light-bringer.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Sex, however, is easy to point at and too expected: we're surrounded by darkness.  Abortion, war, suicide, guns, violence, slow destruction by drugs and alcohol, TV shows and computer games that glorify killing - but even that's too easy.  Our comedy is dark: making just fun out of our darker evils. Have you ever seen a show called "Absolutely Fabulous"?  It's anything but.  Reality TV allows us to see everyone's darker side.  Other TV shows glorify gluttony, greed, anger, and arrogance.  Our politics is filled with the glory of lies and expediency.

The thing is, all this darkness is death.  Humans are not mushrooms and we need light to live.  But we have, as it were, become convinced that we are mushrooms.  We think all of this is normal - healthy. The Evil One makes us hate what is good for us and love what is bad for us. In fact this is such a good trick of his, that he makes us think the bad stuff really is us.  A friend speaking of the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage said she "was given my full humanity..."  I had no idea how to peacefully challenge her on that point.  That's not your humanity: that's a lie.  What part of my life in Christ has failed so much that she could her I would agree with her, and what part of my inability to have a peaceful reply allows her to continue in that mistake? We let Jesus deal with that, I think, and her confessor.

But how is your life a light that shines in the darkness?  How is mine so?  St Paul says, "Walk as children of the Light" and Jesus says, "Let your light shine before men". Paul says that will prove the truth of God, Jesus says "that men may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven."  Paul adds that it will reprove the works of darkness.

Which, of course, means they won't like us so much any more.

That is the whole point of Christmas becoming a light in a world of darkness and dying for it.

28 November 2015

The Rosary: the Preaching of the Kingdom

The Proclamation of the Kingdom is a special mystery because it involves not only Christ and it is not limited in time or space. Anywhere the preaching of Christ is embodied in the world the Kingdom is taking place.  Of course, the Kingdom here is a Mystery, not fully present outside the presence of a Sacrament: an outward and invisible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  The Church is most assuredly the Kingdom of God on earth just as the Eucharist is really his Flesh and Blood, but it is only the eyes of Faith that can see it and, sometimes, humans can desecrate it, be it an thief stealing hosts or a gunman "claiming God's will" in violence; a priest giving communion and not watching to see if the host is consumed, or a bishop bringing his boyfriend to Church: there is sin on earth.

And yet the Kingdom of God is proclaimed not as coming, but as here, now.

Sleeper agents, covert operatives.

When you're at the Post Office and you interact with Grace, when you stand in humility before some perceived "injustice" knowing that you're working out your salvation, when you reach out in love to some stranger around you - even when "sharing food" is illegal, you're proclaiming the Kingdom to those around you, you are living in it and holding open a door to invite others in.

Ancient Romans thought Christians were violent revolutions, trying to destroy the state, refusing to participate in a Nationalist religion and thus subverting the blessings bestowed on Rome by the heavens. For this they killed Christians. At one time, Americans were afraid of Catholics holding political office because they claimed that Catholics owe allegiance first to the Vatican.  I pray for the day when such suspicion is raised about any Christian acting in our society and I pray for the day when it really is true for me. Because we're no where near that now. We are, in the words of Douglas Adams, "Mostly Harmless".  We've caved in to being nice instead of proclaiming the Kingdom.

The verses I've chosen are the most clear proclamation of the Kingdom in the Scriptures: the Beatitudes which are sung nearly every Sunday in the Byzantine Liturgy.

The embolism I use in praying this Mystery is "...proclaiming the Kingdom of God in the world..."

25 November 2015

O Root - 3rd Advent Meditation

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.


Blood, the old saying goes, is thicker than water.  It's an old slam against Christians - who are just as human as anyone else: the water in question is found in the Baptismal Font. But often, when in a tight space, a Christian, just as much as anyone else, will "stick to his own kind, one of his own kind". If you're at all familiar with Christians on the internet, you see it all the time: we'll stand with "our own kind" over Brother Christians almost any day.

And our own kind - our blood - is measured in race, or sexuality, in nationality, although sometimes we dress it up as "religion": A "Christian Civilization" as against "Arabs" or Muslims.  We ignore that there are Christians there too - because religion is just one of our things to cover the blood issue.  Blood is thicker than water, after all.  In extremes, this turns in to White Supremacists (who even steal an image of the Crucifixion for their propaganda about "White Man Crucified"), but we do it all the time: any time there is an "us" versus a "them", an "in group" versus an "out group", we're saying blood is thicker than water.  Gangs, fraternities, alma maters with historic grudge matches, Yankees and Confederates, Communists and Capitalists, race, nationality, even sex becomes a division in the body of Christ.

Before I go any further, this is not an appeal to moral relativism: it is possible to be right or wrong.  Nor is it an appeal to a false Ecumenism: Jesus, himself, said, "Not all who say 'Lord, Lord' are mine".  Rather it is an appeal to recognize Jesus' supremacy over all the powers of our world.  It is possible to be either inside or outside of Jesus' posse: but the response to finding someone outside the posse is evangelism, not hatred.

All the powers - the bloods - of humanity are in one of two toggled positions: either bringing people together under Christ, or else bringing people together apart from Christ.  That coming together apart from Christ can look so very much like Christians that we get side tracked into not seeing the bad stuff.  How many Christian groups get all interfaith warm and cuddly without trying to preach the Gospel?

One of the Great Miracles of Christmas is how God arranged the world. The Fathers of the Church, and also our liturgy, praise the Pax Romana, the peace enjoyed by so much of the known world at that time because of Rome's political and military hegemony.  It was all for Rome's own purposes, of course: draining the world of resources and making Rome wealthy; but it held the world in peace so that the Gospel could be spread.  There was a common language, a common cultural understanding - even among different races and tribes - that made it so easy for the early Church to grow.  Compare this to other modern political "unifications" that only force people together without any sense of peace, that often play both ends against the middle to keep all the people arguing and allow an elite group to remain in power, as often the British did in their empire and colonies. (And African Proverb runs, "If you pass a pond and two fish are fighting, you know the British have been there.")  We are still cleaning up those messes in Africa, the Middle East, and Ireland.  Rome was a pagan empire used by God.  England not hardly at all - though it was Christian in name. The same is true of any other "empire" in your life.

Have you ever seen an Empire on parade like on Gay Pride Day?  Or have you seen the blood feuds of Europe carried over into American meeting halls and St Patrick's Day Parades? It is recorded that when the Saxons first came to England, the Celts refused to send them clergy to teach them the Gospel simply because they were Saxons.  Red gangs versus Blue gangs, Nortenos vs Surenos, the list goes on and on.

At several points in my life I wanted to "bring my colors" into Church.  Have you heard about the people who try to wear rainbow sashes to communion?  Once upon a time that was me - although we didn't do sashes back in the day.  It's not enough to stand before God at his Altar: I needed to bring my own kingdom with me.  I wanted a church that was "Gay Friendly" without ever asking if I was being Christ Friendly.

I'm not alone there, bringing my flag.  I know about controversies over General Lee's battle flag being flown at his own parish in Virginia, but what about all those churches with US flags in them - no less a symbol of division and hate to many? Or Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) here in San Francisco, which is decked out in so very many Union Jacks and Royal Standards as to make one think one is in Londonderry just after Marching Season.

And I don't need to point out that the Monarchs of England (and other places, like Russia, Serbia, Greece) enjoy status as Church functionaries too.

The antiphon today calls Jesus an "ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence." This is not an Republican cry against Monarchism.  Jesus is not here to free us from the oppression of monarchies, or to give us monarchies to free us from the Majority Tyrannies of the mob.  Jesus - contrary to almost every thing the Secular Left and the Secular Right (through their dupes in the Church) say - had no political agenda.  He didn't "liberate" anyone or preach liberation of any kind. He was not a pacifist, but neither did he get into the political squabbles of his day. The Jews erroneously expected their Messiah to to come and liberate them from Rome. Christians today, no less erroneously, expect Jesus to liberate us from Big Gov't, from Sexism and Homophobia, from racism, from war.  He's not come to solve the problem of Islamic Extremism or the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Jesus makes all those things shut up - not go away.  Makes them be silent in your heart by virtue of your having entered into his kingdom.

And in the silence, you can be saved.

O come, O Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.

The problem with every "Us/Them" division is that the people on "the other side" are no less icons of the Living God, no less in need of grace, no less worthy of heaven than the people on "our side".  Gospel was needed in the Concentration Camps of Germany: by both the inmates and the Nazis.  Salvation was needed in the Soviet Gulags no less by the prisoners than by the guards.  the Gospel in America is needed by the KKK and the poor whites whom they brain wash just as much as by the poor blacks that they bully and kill.  Jesus is needed both by the Stupid Party and by the Evil party - apply those labels any way you wish.  It works.  Any tyranny of division is Satan's own.  Yes, there are lines and borders and even language and race divides us, however any failure to see "them" as God's children needed the Grace of Jesus is caused not by the reality of the situation, but by Satan.

Again, this is not an appeal to amorality, or to any false union for becoming Christian means leaving idolatry behind, be it of states, sodomy, or sola scriptura.  But we are called to bring the Gospel to all, and to avoid the luxury of human enemies. All us and them is just you and me and I can not be saved without you.  Blood may be thicker than water, at least in viscosity and specific gravity, but just as our baptism makes us one in Christ, so our common humanity makes us one before God's throne.  In the final accounting no one in the Church will be allowed to say "Those people were not fully human, so we didn't bother bringing the Gospel to them."

And by bringing the Gospel: which means preaching and living it we are saved.




20 November 2015

O Lord: 2nd Advent Meditation

Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

Lord and Ruler the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.

The redemption prayed for in this antiphon has happened - as mentioned in the last meditation: we are once again set to be free to enter into the dance with God.  We can, however, insist on a return to the "slavery to our own reasonings".   It's a path I well know: because I want to be Christian, but, you know, not all the way.

To call the divine child "Adonai" is a theological claim, a heavenly claim.  To call him "Dux" or, as in a few days time, "Rex", is a temporal claim, an earthly claim.  If you will, it is a political claim. In Greek it is usually rendered "Kyrie" which is a title for Caesar.  In Latin the title is usually "Domine" here, however, the text takes up the Hebrew word, one of the Divine Names - using it untranslated, to better make the theological point: this is God in the Flesh. As noted, it's backed up with a temporal title, "Dux" or "Duke".  God was both of these things to Ancient Israel until they begged for an Earthly King "like the other tribes".  God said this desire for a visible, human Dux was a rejection of his kingship.  In his mercy he gave them what they asked for, first a "king that looked like a king" in Saul, then a king that acted like one in David.  Perhaps in a divine show of humor, he became one of the children of that earthly kingship: in and by himself returning the throne and crown to himself. As he is the Lawgiver in heaven through Moses, so he is the lawgiver on earth through his Church. The divine and the earthly are joined in this man: Christ is both God and Man and he is Lord of Heaven and Earth, both Adonai and Dux.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty, and awe.

What would it mean for a human person - or nation - to call this God-Man, "Adonai et Dux"?  We know that Jesus, himself, said that just saying this was enough:
Non omnis qui dicit mihi, Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum caelorum: sed qui facit voluntatem Patris mei, qui in caelis est, ipse intrabit in regnum caelorum. 
Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 7:21
Saint Paul adds: Et nemo potest dicere, Dominus Jesus, nisi in Spiritu Sancto. And no man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost. (I Corinthians 12:3) Simply saying it is not enough - there is the doing. Saint James says, "Estote autem factores verbi, et non auditores tantum: fallentes vosmetipsos." But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (1:22) Saying is a start: but doing is the key.

I am aware at how good I am at saying.  I am equally aware at how good my friends are at calling bull-pucky.  I am thankful for my friends, liberal and conservative, Christians and not, who have challenged me since High School: saying you cannot be both Gay and Christian without warping one or the other beyond all recognition - so much so as to no longer need the name.  I'm sorry it took most of my life to hear them, but I am thankful for them.   Ditto the people who call bull-pucky on my lack of charity or, most recently, on my sloth.  Saying, "Jesus is Adonai and Dux" means a serious essay towards fixing things over which he's not Lord. I have learned to hear my Holy Guardian Angel saying "Stop That".  Just gotta learn to listen...

Thing is, Jesus makes it clear it's possible not to get this point at all.
Multi dicent mihi in illa die: Domine, Domine, nonne in nomine tuo prophetavimus, et in nomine tuo daemonia ejecimus, et in nomine tuo virtutes multas fecimus? Et tunc confitebor illis: Quia numquam novi vos: discedite a me, qui operamini iniquitatem.

Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.  
Matthew 7:22-23
It's possible to spend your entire life going to church or thinking "spiritually" but never change your bed, your food, your social patterns.  It's possible for people to look at you and say "Yeah, he's a Christian, but I'm thankful he's not that sort of Christian: he's kinda cool."  Or, if they are your friends, really, they may challenge your integrity on that point.  Be sure to listen then - it may save your soul.

There will be preachers and prostitutes, pious peddlers and impious pastors, popes, police, patriarchs, politicians, and you and I standing before the throne at the last day: will our lives - or only our words - say "Adonai et Dux"?

What do your friends think?




18 November 2015

The Rosary: The Wedding At Cana

My most sincere apologies for the lateness of this post - it should have happened on Sunday!

This mystery is about the Wedding at Cana: given all the hoopla currently around marriage, I think is a mystery for us all to pray all the time.

It is true that it is from Christ's presence at Cana that the Church develops a sacramental idea of marriage.  But it is also true that for the longest time marriage was seen as a secular issue with which devout Christians could work out their salvation.  First it was a state of life, governed by the state, which is blessed by the Church - giving it a sacramental grace.  Later it became a sacrament wholly governed by the Church.  But the State has always held so many of the cards in hand, that this state of life has always had risks: when the Byzantine Emperors and the English Kings wanted divorce, churches complied.

But as St Paul says, the Union of a Husband and Wife is a Mystery of Christ and his Church.  This union of opposites, the merger of the two poles of human nature into one flesh, is how God becomes Man to save Man.  At every wedding, inside every measure, God takes our human water - used for washing dishes - and turns it into Divine Wine.

It is exactly in washing dishes that we find salvation with our spouse.

There is no liturgical commemoration (east or west) of the Wedding at Cana outside of every Wedding Ceremony, so I have take parts of the Byzantine Rite of crowning and marriage.  It's important to know: in the ER there is no vow. It is the blessing of the priest  - more correctly, God's response to that blessing - that makes the marriage happen, just as it is his blessing that makes the Eucharist.

Mary's place here is important for she prays her son to do something.  And he listens to his mother.  From this we draw the idea that she is our Intercessor and Mediatrix before the Divine Throne.

The embolism I use for this:

...blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, who heard thy prayers at the Wedding in Cana, changing water into wine. Holy Mary...

15 November 2015

O Wisdom: 1st Advent Meditation

By way of introduction I have been posting meditations on the "Great O" Antiphons since I was Chrismated in 2002. There are seven in the Tridentine liturgy plus one more from the Sarum Rite. These 8 antiphons space out rather nicely over the 40 days of the Byzantine Rite Advent Fast which starts today, 15 Nov. I will, God Willing, post on 20th, 25th, and 30th November, 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th December. For a good bit of history (as well as html Frames!) see Fr Z's page here. He also does meditations on the Antiphons and some of my RCC and even WR friends may appreciate his take more!


Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

This Advent I'm meditating on failure - mine, mostly, but our shared failures as well.  Another word for failure is "harmartia", which comes from the Greek ἁμαρτία, from ἁμαρτάνειν hamartánein, which means “to miss the mark” or “to err”.  It's usually translated "sin", but I'm going to stick with failure for now because I am here, "Midway in the journey of our life" and it seems a good time to do so.  So this is a sort of "Life Confession" or "Midlife Confession".

From 5th Grade, at least, I wanted to be a minister.  Our family was Methodist. I've no idea what the Methodist "Ordination Process" was like in 1974, but it was probably some low-church version of "lunch with the Bishop."  If the Lunch ended with "you'er a nice young man, perhaps you should consider seminary?"  You were on you way.  That lunch would not happen until late in High School, but from fifth grade on I was teaching Sunday School and preaching the "Youth Sunday" Sermon.  Pastor Bob was a great encouragement to me in Wurtsboro, NY, as was Pastor Jim when we moved to Acworth, GA.  But somehow, 40 years later, I'm not ordained.

This self-evident fact was given to me like a hard face slap a couple of years ago, just after my 49th birthday, as a friend was ordained to the priesthood.  I realized that given all the same choices as I, he had taken them differently in several places and his choices had led him to where I had claimed to want to go. Another friend was ordained this Summer and his mother commented regarding her pride in the choices he had made to get there.  She used the words "Sacrifice" and "Integrity".  These are not words I would be able to use to describe my life's journey.

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who orders all things mightily,
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

The invocation of Divine Wisdom - Sapientia in Latin, Sophia in the Greek - at the beginning of these Advent Devotions is to a specific end: the inculcation of Prudence in the worshipers.  But what is Prudence?  It is one of the four Cardinal Virtues which also include Justice, Temperance, and Courage. (There are also three "Theological Virtues": Faith, Hope, and Charity.) Prudence is primarily about foresight, about seeing which of several possible choices is the moral choice, the right choice.  By the correct actions we can grow the other virtues as well.  Prudence is regarded as a prime virtue for this reason: you can't get the others without it.  But what is "correct action"?

In Orthodox and Catholic understanding of the human person man's natural state of being, his φύσις or "phusis" is according to God's plan for his life.  In this natural state - that state "according to our nature", the nature God intended for us - man makes prudent (correct) choices and from this correct action flows. Correct action is according to our nature.  Our failures throw this prudence off course.  We make a choice based on other things: and so our choices are against nature or παρά φύσιν (para phusin) which really means "to the side" of nature: and look, we're back to missing the mark again. We're off to the side.

Paul uses παρά φύσιν in his epistle to the Roman to describe a number of things including same-sex sexual activities, men pretending to be women or vice versa.  Our answer to that charge, today, is "Yes, but this is my nature.  Paul had no idea about my nature.  For me to pretend to be something else would be against my nature."  To this individualistic claim, Advent is a Divine Slapdown. Human nature is one ontological whole: yes there are many persons who are human, but there is only one Human Nature.  Just as there are three persons in the One Divinity, so there is One Humanity.  In the incarnation of that one Divinity as One of Us, part of the One Humanity, the natures are joined.  It is not my nature: it's nature.

Your nature is no different from mine save in the ways each of us fails in the path of prudence - of making choices based not on the Divine Plan but on our own plans, our emotions, or our feelings. Human freedom lies not in the ability to choose to do anything we want, but rather our freedom to be the most amazing humanity possible lies in the choice for God's plan - not our own.  When we choose else we are not being free: we are led away as slaves to our own reasonings, our body's cravings, our appetites, or on our Passions, as the theologians would say.  When we convince ourselves that "This thing contrary to God's plan is really who I am" we are exposing our own lack of understanding of our shared human nature.  We are rather like a street car refusing to ride on the tracks laid out for it - and insisting that it's a better street car because of its ability to jump the rails.

The first Great O Antiphon is a prayer for Divine Sophia, to teach us prudence, to show us the way to go.  We want her to put our lives in o that "all things mightily and sweetly" dance into which she orders the world. We want her to make our lives, to borrow a pun from the Latin, suave.  As Sophia is Christ, the Incarnation itself is an answer to this prayer. Jesus becomes man to restore our sanity, to restore to us our natural, inborn ability to make the right choices, to become fully human (like Christ) which is the first step to becoming divine.

To get to right action again - after we've jumped the rails, as it were - requires a metanoia often translated as "changed mind" or "repentance", as in "If you miss the mark, you must repent".  But it's  not just a "changed mind" but "beyond mind".  We need to get beyond our own thinking, our own little box of ideas about "who I am".  Advent is the only way out: God becomes us so we may join him in the dance.  God reveals to us in himself the fullness of humanity and, by becoming man, restores to all of us our natural humanity.

When I look at my life I see that my choices were imprudent because they were para-phusis, if phusis is understood as a divine revelation.  I will admit my choices caused me and others much temporary happiness, but I can not say that they have made me into the person I wanted to be way back in  fifth grade.  Nor, to judge by my active life in the confessional, have they made me into the person God wanted me to be.

Which leaves me with one remaining question: perhaps that desire, first voiced in 1974 or '75, was the wrong choice.  Can a fifth grade be prudent? Is it possible for the fifth grader to derail the man?

12 November 2015

The Rosary: The Baptism of Christ

In the East this event is commemorated on 6 January, which feast is called the Theophany, or manifestation of God.  In the West the Baptism of Our Lord is commemorated on 13 January: the Octave Day of Epiphany, which feast commemorates the coming of the Magi and the manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles. The Byzantine texts celebrate this feast not just as the manifestation of the Messiah but as a full manifestation of the Trinity: with the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of the dove.  This feast then - not just to the Gentiles - but to everyone - is the first full revelation of the One God as a Trinity of Love, the passing of the old covenant, the beginning of the new.

In praying this Mystery, I use the embolism, "Who was baptized in the Jordan by John."

09 November 2015

Quest for Chicken


So there was this Sheik who, as a youth, had studied in America, in the south, in fact, where he learned to like fried chicken with all the fixings

And as he was sitting at the Oasis, surrounded by the court and camels, he turned to his son and said, "My son, my son, the sun is darkened in my eyes and I will faint and die if I do not again taste of the succulent fried chicken of my youth."

And his pious son, whose name was Beau, turned to him and said "My Father, may you live for ever. I will find you a chicken and we shall prepare it together to your liking.  And there shall be a feast!"

Beau and his wives and their maidservants went off on a quest traveled far to the north where the found a farmer.

"Oh, good farmer", began Beau, the son of the Sheik. "We are come in search of chickens that my Father - may he live for ever - might have them fried as they were in the days of his youth."

And the farmer replied, "Fair sir from a far country, forsooth, there were once many chickens in this land, but lo: a dragon has come and captured them all. And every day he places one of our flocks before him and breathes fire on them and makes them all extra crispy as we make them here in these parts.  Then he eats them.  We are all starved for chicken, having nothing but this one carrot and a few bits of cotton left."

Then said Beau, the Son of the Sheik, to the Farmer, "We must slay the dragon!  I will fight him and slay him and then we shall have chicken!"

"With you as our champion, we will never go hungry again!" Added the farmer, shaking his fist in the air.

"But,: continued the farmer. "You cannot fight the dragon lest you lure him out of his cave.  How will you do that?"

Beau thought for a moment.  Then he smiled.

"Dragons like beautiful women! I shall tie one of my wives' maidservants beside the monster's cave and I shall hide. And when he comes out to see her beauty, I will jump on him from the shadows and slay him."

The farmer replied, "Okaaaaaaaaayyyy...." And wandered off to invite neighbors to come watch, because they'd never tried this before, of course.

As the local watched (some made pop corn), Beau tied up a maid to a post by the dragon's lair and then sat nearby and watched.  Knowing full well what would happen, one of the locals said "Hey, Dragon!"  This yelp caused beau to turn around momentarily and in that moment the dragon came out and gobbled up the maid and then vanished.  Beau turned back to see an empty post.

The locals tried to suppress their giggles.

I'm going to cut this story short (in the movie the montage will happen here, along with some really wonderful sort of Benny Hill music).

When all the maids were gone, Beau sighed and tried with his wives. (Another montage here, this time with "Gone with the wind" theme playing.)

And then they were gone.

And Beau went home.

And there was some giggling on the part of the villagers, but most people were just bored enough to go back to work and forget it all happened.

Returning to his father empty handed Beau had to tell him all.

And his father was sad and said, "you mean...."


07 November 2015

The Luminous Mysteries: Introduction


To the standard 15 Decades of the Rosary, Pope John Paul II suggested another 5, the Mysteries of Light or the Luminous Mysteries. He did this in his letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae on 16 October 2002.  Whilst these have been accepted by Roman Catholics, they are not in very common use by other Christians who prefer to stick with the "traditional Rosary".   These five "new" mysteries are:
  1. The Baptism of Christ
  2. The Wedding of Cana
  3. The Preaching of the Kingdom of God
  4. The Transfiguration
  5. The Mystical Supper
It may surprise some Orthodox - even those Byzantine Rite folks generally supportive of the Western Rite and also Western Rite folks in general - to hear that I advocate the use of John Paul the Second's "innovation".  I do so for three reasons:
  1. It does (as the Pope said) expand this devotion to encompass the whole life of Christ.
  2. It expands the meditation to the Holy Sacraments.
  3. It makes (by both 1 & 2 together) the entire meditation more Orthodox.
1. The Whole Life of Christ
The existing 15 Mysteries focus our attention on the Birth and the Death and Resurrection of Christ, but it is the entire presence of God with us that is salvific.  These five new mysteries widen out the scope of the prayer to teach that every action of God from the Annunciation (and before) to the Glorification (and beyond) was part of our salvation.

2. The Holy Sacraments
Each one of the Luminous mysteries seems, to me, to point to one of five Sacraments:
  1. The Baptism of Christ - Our Baptism
  2. The Wedding of Cana - Holy Matrimony
  3. The Preaching of the Kingdom of God - Holy Orders
  4. The Transfiguration - Confirmation/Chrismation
  5. The Mystical Supper - The Holy Eucharist
I recognize that #4 is a stretch, but we're talking poetic meditation here, not doctrinal teaching. 

3. More Orthodox
If the main objection Orthodox have to the Rosary (as I have heard) is not "it's Roman Catholic" but rather "too Western" (whatever that means), I think the addition of the Mysteries of Light fixes that.  They remove the focus from all the "sad stuff", widening it out to "all the stuffs".  It makes it a more holistic discussion of the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of the God-Man, or, to use a mid-century modern phrase, the Christ Event.   

Those of you who didn't drop your reading device at the end of the last paragraph are begged to pray for me.  I will wrap up this intro now and on Wednesday begin the last five posts in this series.

Those of you who have asked for one of my hand-made Rosaries will get one when the series is done!

The Rosary: Closing Prayers & Suggestions


When praying the Rosary, it is traditional to do one set of five mysteries (eg, The Joyous Mysteries) - also known as five decades - at a time, although another pious practice is to do three Mysteries a day as a minimum.  My personal practice is five decades a day, although I do not get them all at once (more on that below).  At the end of the last decade, including the concluding Gloria, it is traditional to end your Rosary with these prayers:

The Salve Regina 

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send forth our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.

℣. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
℟. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ, thy Son.

O GOD, Who by the life, death, and resurrection of Thy only-begotten Son, hath purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

℣. May the Divine Help remain with us always,
℟. And with those who are absent from us.

℣. May the souls of the faithful through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
℟. Amen.

In my own practice I end each set of five decades this way, but if I have to stop "in the middle" as it were, I  say instead, only this prayer, which is the oldest known prayer to the Blessed Virgin (dating back at least to 250 AD):
Under thy protection we flee, O Holy Theotokos; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.
There are various traditions of how to pray this and on what days to pray what.  You can see various suggestions around the net.  I stick with doing the Glorious Mysteries on Sunday, and starting the Joyous Mysteries on Monday.  However:

The traditional Dominican Rosary, as we have it today, with the three sets of five decades as we have included it in this series, is the method of praying the rosary that survived the middle ages.  There were other methods at that time: I've heard one scholar say that at one time there were 150 different mysteries, one "Ave" for each.  I don't know about that... but the point is made that the Rosary went through an evolution before Dominic de Guzman and his Preachers made it popular in a standard form.  It survived that way for nearly 775 years, until Pop John Paul suggested five more mysteries.  I will continue this in a new post, but I think JPII's additional mysteries actually make the Rosary more Orthodox and so I think they should be included.  Thus I pray:

Monday: the Joyous Mysteries
Tuesday: the Luminous Mysteries
Wednesday: the Dolorous Mysteries
Thursday: The Glorious Mysteries
Friday: The Dolorous Mysteries
Saturday: The Joyous (and/or the Luminous) Mysteries
Sunday: The Glorious Mysteries


04 November 2015

The Rosary: The Coronation of the Blessed Virigin

Our Lady's coronation by her divine Son as Queen of Heaven is, in fact, the second coronation in the Rosary: the first being that of her Son, himself, by the Romans; but where the Virgin receives a crown of twelve stars from Jesus, he, at the hand of his fellow men, received a crown of thorns.  Jesus entire ministry was taking man into divinity.  Our nature, the stuff of which we are made - each of us, born of woman, born in pain between blood and feces - is raised up to God that we might follow and, here, Mary is the first.

She was the first to carry within her body the God-Man in the flesh: as we do now, after communion, also carry his flesh and blood.  She was the first to open fully her life to the Holy Ghost, as we do (or try to do) daily. She was the first to know the Incarnation, to dance in the new gavotte that God was calling.  And so she is the first to be fully divinized, fully en-theosed, to be crowned in heaven.

We to, if we dare, can be filled with the Holy Ghost, bear Christ in our bodies to the world, only fall asleep, never die, and be crowned in heaven. But only if we dare to take God by the hand and dance.   Yet, more than just a prophetic sign for us, Mary is Queen of Heaven and of each of us if we will let her reign.  Her coronation is her confirmation: she is mother of the Church, the untilled field from when sprang the divine wheat, she is the fount of wisdom, the unhewn mountain, the multiplier of wheat, the way shower, the gate through which the king has passed.  The titles continue for pages and pages.

I've taken the verses from the Akathist to the Blessed Virgin which would be a bit long-winded if one were reading these texts as part of a full, five- or fifteen-decade devotional, but as a meditation on this one mystery, they make perfect sense.

The embolism I use for walking or private prayer is: and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, crowning thee Queen of heaven and Queen of my heart.

01 November 2015

From St Bede on the Feast of All Saints



Dearly beloved : Today we keep holy-day, with one great cry of joy, in memory of all the Saints ; whose presence is a gladness to heaven ; whose prayers are a blessing to earth ; whose victories are the crown of holy Church ; whose testimony is now to be honoured in proportion to the glory imparted to it by the agony which was endured in the giving of it. For the greater the torment, the richer the reward ; and the fiercer the battle, the brighter the glory of the fighters whose triumph in martyrdom was in this wise adorned with more sufferings.

Our mother the Catholic Church, which is spread far and wide throughout all this planet, hath learnt, from Christ Jesus her Head, to fear neither shame nor cross nor death, but to increase in strength by enduring suffering rather than by resisting it.

Therefore she was able to breathe into each one of that noble band, which persevered under condemnation to suffering, a spirit of courage like unto her own, even the hope of conquest and glory, whereby they were invigorated to persevere manfully in conflict unto the very end.

O truly blessed Mother Church, whom God's mercy doth so illumine! Whom the glorious blood of victorious Martyrs doth adorn! Whom the inviolate virginity of so many pure souls doth clothe with raiment white and glistening! Neither roses nor lilies are wanting in thy garlands. Therefore dearly beloved, let us each one of us strive to attain the goodly crown of one or the other of these dignities, either the glistening whiteness of chastity, or the red dye of suffering. In the heavenly army both peace and war have chaplets of their own, to crown Christ's soldiers withal.

Moreover, the unutterable and infinite goodness of God hath provided this, namely, that the time of working and wrestling is not over-long, much less everlasting, but as it were for a moment. That is, only in this short and scanty life is there wrestling and working, but the crown and the prize endureth for a life which is eternal. The work is soon over, but the wage is paid for ever. And when the night of this world is ended, the Saints see the clearness of the essential light, and receive a blessedness outweighing the pangs of any torment, as testifieth the Apostle Paul : The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

The Rosary: Our Lady's Death and Assumption

Here, at last, is one place where the Romans and the Orthodox might differ in the Rosary - although as recently as the middle of the last century this was not so. When I was a freshman in High School I found at a used bookstore, a book on the Apparitions of Our Lady. It was certainly Roman Catholic, including the stories of Knock, the Miraculous Medal, Lourdes, etc.  It started with a Vita, a Life of the Blessed Virgin and included the stories of her birth and the Presentation in the Temple, of Joseph's miraculous rod and the like. And in the end it told of her death: how the Apostles had been drawn from all the ends of the world to witness her death, and how Thomas was not there. How when he arrived, three days later, John took him to the tomb and it was empty: filled with the scent of roses.

This is, essentially, also the Orthodox story of the Life, Death, and Assumption of the Virgin. It is painted in many icons and many western painting (see below for an image by Giotto).

For some Romans, today, however, Mary did not die. How could she? Since she had never sinned and was free of "original sin" (not an Orthodox teaching per se) how could she be subject to death? Death is the punishment for sin! This is not the case with all Catholics. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia makes that clear in the articles on Mary and on her Assumption. Both articles refer to her death. So, again, I'm only talking about some Roman Catholics. I've even heard one Catholic Priest use the Orthodox Title for this feast ("Dormition" or "Falling Asleep") as proof that we don't believe she died either: it's a "process so unlike death", he said, that we "call it a falling asleep". Of course, as we know from Orthodox Teaching, for all Christians, death is now only Falling Asleep in the Lord. We will all do it: Just as Mary did.

This Mystery is, thus, a meditation on our own death and a realization that the fear of death is needless as death is but a gateway to victory. In his death, Jesus has turned death into only more life. And so for us, if we die in Christ, we are more alive. As the Mass for the Dead (Western Rite) says, "Tuis enim fidelibus, Domine, vita mutatur, non tollitur: et dissoluta terrestris hujus incolatus domo, aeterna in coelis habitatio comparatur." For to thy faithful people, Lord, life is changed, not taken away; and when the home of this earthly sojourn is dissolved, an eternal dwelling is made ready in heaven.

I have chosen verses from the Feast of the Dormition. For an embolism I usually say, "Fruit of thy womb, Jesus assuming thee, body and soul, into heaven."

27 October 2015

The Rosary: Pentecost

The Mystery of Pentecost, the Out-Pouring of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles and all of Creation, is the beginning of the fruits of Christ's actions among us. The Holy Ghost makes all of us divine if we will but let Him into our lives and reform, reshape, heal, cleanse, make whole what is shattered, make up what is lost, and in our weakness to fill us with strength.

This is my own parish's feast day and why I answer anyone asking "What should we pray for?" with "Revival". This is what my parish should be doing: holding the heavenly doors open for the continued outpouring of the Holy Ghost on us, on San Francisco, and on the world around us. But it is also what all of us should be doing as Christians.  As we are the Body of Christ and as Christ prays for the Father to send the Spirit so should we be likewise doing.  Not for some sort of Benny Hinnesque back-falling of moaning with our mouths flecked with foam.

But for salvation. Peace. Joy. Holiness. Love.  Against these the only thing standing is our refusal to pray.

The embolism I use is "sending us the Holy Ghost from his father."

The texts I've woven in below come from the Vespers and Matins for Pentecost.

26 October 2015

The Rosary: The Ascension

Our Lord's Ascension is the first evidence that the "key has changed" as I noted in the last mystery: the Eastern liturgical texts speak of how amazed the Angels are at seeing one of our race of men entering into the Heavens.  The Psalm text, "Who is this king of glory?" is read as the angels asking each other "Look! Who is this? Who comes here? Who?"

It's a mortal man now immortal and a divine being now dead and alive again.

The King of All the Ages, by gift of his Father, is one of us.

And there is no "one of us" there is only "All of Us".  As in Adam, all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

The embolism I use is "the incarnate Word of God ascending to His Father's throne."

24 October 2015

Kingdomtide: The All Saints Project



Tomorrow, 25 October, is the Sunday of Christ the King in the Pre-Vatican II Ordo - the "Extraordinary Form" - for the Roman Church and also in the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate, which last also uses the older calendar as well.  On the Novos Ordo calendar this feast is the last Sunday before Advent starts, this year that is 22 November. The ROCOR Western Rite folks use the Novos Ordo calendar to calculate this feast, for some reason. ROCOR, of course, calculates the Nativity feast on the Julian Calendar, so their Advent starts much later: their Calendar commemorates Christ the King Sunday on the 6th of December (NS) which is 23 November on the Julian Calendar.

If we (Orthodox, Old Calendar and New, together with the Roman Catholics on both the EF and Novus Ordo) count everything, we might see the time, this year, from 25 October - 6 December (23 November OS) as "Kingdomtide."

There is no "Christ the King" on the ER calendar and All Saints Sunday is linked with the paschal cycle, usually falling in May or June.  But I pray the Eastern Rite folks (Orthodox and ByzCath) will join in this project!

If you are inclined to yell "Ecumenism!" please lay aside, for a moment, all superfluity of snarkiness: I want us to take over the internets with saints.

Christ the King Sunday - proclaiming the Kingship of Christ not only in the next world and "in our lives" but also in this world, now, here - is tied to All Saints Day and All Souls Days in the calendars in order to link, liturgically, the idea of Christ reigning as King of all his people in Heaven, on Earth, and in the Afterlife.

In Secular Culture, Christ is not King and All Saints & All Souls Days are not even a time to remember our dead, but to indulge in horrifics and gore. Screen names in social media are being "spookified" and user icons and avatars are being replaced with skulls, jack-o-lanterns, witches, and worse.  It is too easy to hurl labels at this - and perhaps worth doing so - but that's the not the point of this project:

Let us to take over the internet with saints and proclaim the kingship of Christ!


First off:  All Saints Day is not stolen from the pagans.  Read this.  Let's reclaim our holiday and our season. 

Here's my suggestions:

  1. Replace all your social media avatars/user icons with an image of your patron saint; failing that, of Christ the King.
  2. Don't opt for the "spookification" process. Last year I was "Boo! Richardson".  Rather, if possible, put your patron saint there.  "William Francis", "Huw Raphael", or  "Susan Elizabeth", etc.
  3. When discussing this, tweeting, facebooking, or blogging about it, use the hashtags #ChristusRex and #AllSaints
Please do this from tomorrow to, at least, 2 Nov... but I would think we could do all of Kingdom Tide this way, from now until at least the start of Advent (on whatever calendar you use, ER/WR OC/NC).

Forgive me for the late start. I know we mightn't get much done. But we're laying the ground work for next year!


20 October 2015

The Rosary: The Resurrection

As the Funeral Mass says, "For thy faithful people, O Lord, life is not ended, but changed." This Mystery changes the key signature of the entire work. What went before - both joy and sorrow - now has meaning. What comes after now is possible - for it wasn't at all possible before. I ascend to my Father and your Father. He wasn't our Father before: save in the law. Now, if we are in Christ, in the Resurrection, we are a New Creature. The Old Man is passing away: God is our Father. Now we are the very Sons of God in Christ, "buried with him in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life".

My own words fail me here. So I will resort, in this mystery, to the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom. If these seem wordy, remember: the little extra verses are for reading while you pray. For "on the go" praying (I love the Rosary for walking), just use an embolism.

The embolism I use is the Paschal Troparian:

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Recently I found another collection of embolisms for the Rosary on this page.

18 October 2015

Introduction to the Glorious Mysteries


The Glorious Mysteries are the key to the entire Rosary:
  1. The Resurrection of Our Lord
  2. The Ascension of our Lord
  3. The Coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost
  4. The Assumption of Our Lady
  5. The Coronation of Our Lady
The rest of the Rosary is meaningless without these Mysteries.  Our Lord's life and death are in vain without his Resurrection. St Paul, in fact, says the entirety of the Christian teaching is meaningless without this.

The story is told of the filming of the T.V. miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth, that after filming the crucifixion, the cast felt they were finished because that was so powerful a moment. Someone said, "Hey, shouldn't there be a Resurrection somewhere?"  I think this is apocryphal because most works are not film in a chronological sequence, but rather based on outdoor and indoor shoot schedules and the availability of studio space and special effects resources.  But the story does point out the modern error that the crucifixion, itself, is the focus of the story.

Neither, point of fact, is the resurrection: but rather the Entirety of the Life of Christ from his action in the creation of the world to the the prophetic foreknowledge of the prophets, from his incarnation in the Virgin's womb to his institution of the Holy Eucharist, from his Crucifixion to the Descent of the Holy Ghost, and finally to his action in the life of the Church, his Body, today. This is the ongoing action of salvation: we can no more point at one point in time as "the event of salvation" than we can point to magical words in the Eucharistic Canon as "the exact moment of consecration."  As the late canon Edward West once said of the Eucharist, so it is for the life of the world: "We do not know when Christ enters in and we can not reach in and pull him out again."

Christ is saving you right now, if you are willing to participate in the on-going action of your salvation.

The Glorious Mysteries show us what should be the crowning glories of our life as Christians: as our Lord Rises, so do we. As our Lord prays the holy Spirit down on the world from his Father, so do the saints continue to pray God's grace into the world. As the Blessed Virgin is crowned, so are will we, by God's grace, reign with her in Heaven.

But as with Christ, so with us: it is the entirety of the action of our life that becomes the actualization of Salvation.  We cannot be crowned without being conceived, we cannot rise without dying.  The Rosary of Our Blessed Lady shows us that the entirety of life has been sanctified: and that we are called to live in that on-going sanctification.  The Natural Order of life can be broken by us, yes: but we can also live into it and offer it to God in a great Eucharistic action.

14 October 2015

The Rosary: The Crucifixion

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery is perhaps one of the most visual images of our faith. Everyone seems to know what a cross is, and most people have seen an artistic rendering of Crucifixion.  The image below is form Giotto's Life of Christ, as are many of the works used to illustrate this series.

When we see the Crucifixion, I don't know if we see it for what it really is: not only capital punishment, but ignominy.  Those condemned to death in the arena might die fighting. Those beheaded, like John Baptist, died quickly. Those left to rot in prison died slowly in the dark. Those crucified, however, were exposed to public and official ridicule, dying slowly through asphyxiation whilst fighting for every breath. We have no equivalent in the modern world: our executions take place quietly and behind closed doors.

This is Jesus sanctifying death. The death of Christ on the Cross is the supreme triumph of life.  "O life, how canst thou die?" We seeing on Friday night.  Life cannot die.  Breathing can be stopped, the heart can be stopped, but Zoe is for ever. All of life now - from conception, to birth, to the tomb - is an open door.  Death is no longer "the end" but the gateway to the fullness of life in God.  There is no fear.  There can be precious little sorrow. Jesus, by his Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection (for this Mystery is not the Last) has open for us the entrance to Eternal Life: we have only to walk through.

When praying this Mystery, I add an embolism such as

"...blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus; the Incarnate Word of God, crucified, dead, and buried. Holy Mary, Mother of God, &c...."

The verses below are taken from the Good Friday Matins and Vespers.