Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jesus in the Sacrament of his love

Newly consecrated Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Rev'd Jonathan Baker,
gives Benediction at St Alban's Holborn last Thursday afternoon.
The devotions were led by newly consecrated Bishop of Richborough,
the Rt Rev'd Norman Banks.

Back in the late 1960's and early 1970's there was a huge sign painted on the side of a building facing the railway line near Redfern Station in inner Sydney. Tens of thousands gazed upon it daily on their way to work. I read it almost every day for my first two years at University. I cannot remember the product being advertised, but the sign said: "WHAT YOU EAT AND DRINK TODAY WALKS AND TALKS TOMORROW."

It was difficult for a certain passenger or two not to be reminded of St Augustine's teaching in the 4th century, that as we eat the body of Christ in Holy Communion, we become the body of Christ in the world. We even discussed our mental picture of St Augustine giving Holy Communion to his people as he said "Eat what you are, and become what you eat"!

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, a special day when we thank God for the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He comes to us supernaturally as food so as to share his life with us, to deepen our union with him and with one another, to strengthen us for our lives here in this world, and to sustain us for our journey to heaven. He comes as Food to transform us.

"But it's just symbolic" is what some Christians say.

Well, the words of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 11, in the Gospel narratives of the institution of the Eucharist, and in John 6 where he calls himself the "Bread of Life" after feeding the 5,000 are very clear.

And we can turn to the early Church just after the generation of the apostles. In fact, writing between 80 AD and 110 AD, - that is, most likely while the Apostle John is still alive - St Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, calls the Blessed Sacrament "the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his graciousness, raised from the dead."

St Justin Martyr says the same kind of thing a little later on - around 150 AD: "We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Saviour became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the eucharistic prayer."

For two thousand years, the followers of Jesus have gathered at the altar Sunday by Sunday (and some far more often than that) in order to give him the worship and praise that is his due, and to receive him in the Blessed Sacrament, in what is the most precious, sacred, awesome, life-giving encounter possible this side of heaven.

Holy Communion is a powerful sacrament of divine love.

By the 13th century in accordance with the principle, "wherever Jesus is, there he is to be adored", the laity in the west began to express their desire to fix their eyes on the Eucharistic body of the risen Jesus, and exclaim in faith and devotion with the apostle Thomas "My Lord and my God." The bishops recognised this to be a real move of the Holy Spirit, and they encouraged both the elevation of the Host in the Mass and the prayers and devotions that evolved into Benediction as we know it today.

In 1263, prompted by a eucharistic miracle at Bolensa, Italy, in which, during the consecration at Mass real blood seeped from the Host over the hands of the priest and onto the corporal, Pope Urban IV commissioned the well-known theologian Thomas Aquinas to compose special liturgical prayers and hymns in honour of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

One year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Urban introduced Thomas' compositions to the whole Church, and instituted today’s feast of Corpus Christi.

So anointed by the Holy Spirit was Thomas Aquinas that the hymns he composed have stood the test of time. They are still used today. Two of them are sung weekly in those parishes where Benediction routinely follows Sunday Evensong:

Therefore we, before him bending,
This great Sacrament revere;
Types and shadows have their ending,
For the newer rite is here;
Faith, our outward sense befriending,
Makes the inward vision clear.

Glory let us give and blessing
To the Father and the Son;
Honour, might and praise addressing
While eternal ages run;
Ever too his love confessing
Who from both with both is one.

Here is another Benediction hymn - this time from the 1970's – which I have used in my parishes:

Jesus, reigning high in heaven's glory,
Yet truly present on your altar-throne;
Bread of angels, Sacrament most holy,
Living among your people, Risen One.

Holy, holy, holy Lord almighty,
Angels and saints in heaven sing your praise;
Holy Jesus, Sacrament most holy,
Our voices blend with theirs through endless days.

Worship, honour, glory, praise and blessing
We give to you, our Saviour and our Lord;
Alleluia! Sacrament most holy,
Jesus among your people be adored.

Today at Mass, in the spirit of those words, we come to Jesus in repentance and faith, and also in love, joy, reverence and expectancy, knowing that he wants to bless us with his love.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Historical Credibility

A fierce debate is raging in New South Wales, Australia, about state schools offering Special Religious Education ("SRE"). There is an equally fierce debate about about the Federal Government's funding of chaplains in state high schools. The following article is from the "Religion and Ethics" website of the Australian Broadcasting Commission ("ABC"). The author, Dr John Dickson, is the founding co-director of the Centre for Public Christianity, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University. He also teaches a course on the historical Jesus for the Department of Jewish and Biblical Studies at the University of Sydney.

Tamas Pataki, a trained philosopher and well-known figure on the atheist circuit, recently put up four arguments against state schools offering Special Religious Education (SRE). It leads to divisiveness, strengthens group identity (a bad thing because of the first), is factually untrue and, unlike Graeco-Roman wisdom, argues from parable and dogma instead of by reasoning. Pataki is wrong on all four counts.

It was ironic to me that his first two points were grounded not in reasoning or in evidence (such as a social study of the ill-effects of SRE in school life) but in a 1000-word personal parable of a young Jewish boy made to feel alienated in a Melbourne schoolyard.

The story itself was not at all amusing; it shows the damage that can be done when passion - whether religious or political - is not coupled with compassion.

The anecdote was notable on another level. It struck a motif quite common in atheist literature: the boy wounded or disillusioned, sometimes understandably, by early religious experiences grows up to be an ardent atheist (Richard Dawkins's testimonial is the most famous example).

Such stories seem to provide a partial explanation for the puzzling superficiality of the engagement with the intellectual sources of faith that we sometimes see on display. The "religion" that atheists most often parody, quite successfully, is like an imaginary enemy from childhood, an object frozen in the mind of a twelve year old and never seriously examined since.


But back to the point. In a secularizing society like ours, I fear that Pataki may be right that the case for SRE today carries little force for many Australians.

The only argument I personally think has weight - and on which he was noticeably wobbly - is that Judeo-Christianity significantly influences Western culture, art, politics, ethics and history.

Children should be taught Judaism and Christianity - and, in the interests of multicultural fairness, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism too - in order to grasp something of Australia's cultural heritage and, more generally, how powerful ideas have shaped the realities of the modern world.

This could be taught by existing teachers and as a "secular subject," but it is hard to predict how successful this would be in conveying the essential content and inner strength of the different worldviews.

Pataki skirts around the issue when he says that the influence of the Judeo-Christian worldview on Western history has been "exaggerated." This is itself a flimsy assertion, which he hopes readers will believe on account of the fact that, in other respects, he is a thoughtful writer. But I do not see how any serious ancient or medieval historian could accept that.

Western culture has been shaped decisively by its Hebrew and Christian cultural sources, as many specialists qualified to speak on the subject have shown, including Oxford's Peter Harrison, Princeton's Peter Brown, Baylor's Rodney Stark, Macquarie's Edwin Judge and others.

The Judeo-Christian shape of Western civilization is hardly discussed in the media, let alone given the opportunity to be "exaggerated." Sadly, such insights are usually left to the cultural historians and political philosophers. One such expert, the atheist Jurgen Habermas of the Goethe University in Frankfurt, famously conceded:

"Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than a mere precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love ... Everything else is just idle postmodern talk."


But I have a particular bone to pick with Pataki. He slips into a presumption very common among both religious preachers and atheist writers at the moment: competency extrapolation, where expertise in one area is taken to justify grandiose claims about things far outside your field.

It's not that people can't comment on important matters outside their area of study. We all do that. But when we do, we should proceed with some caution, citing relevant evidence and experts to support our case.

Tamas Pataki is a technical philosopher, but his knowledge of historical scholarship leaves much to be desired. He begins well. "Truth in history matters," he says as he introduces his section on the hopeless unreliability of the Bible. But then come the baseless assertions, errors of fact and serious misrepresentations of scholarship.

This is something of a trend in recent atheist literature. Leaving aside the small, pardonable mistakes of those who haven't felt it necessary to read any Bible since childhood (Dawkins's placement of the Magi story in Luke's Gospel, for instance), harder to overlook are the serious misrepresentations of scholarship found in atheist apologetics.

For example, Michel Onfray, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins all suggest that the very existence of Jesus is still in doubt among the historians. Dawkins cites an authority who has made what he describes as a "serious historical case that Jesus never lived at all," one "Prof. G.A. Wells of the University of London." But what Dawkins doesn't say is that Wells is Professor of German Language and Literature at the University of London.

How would he react if someone made an eccentric biological claim and then cited a language professor as the "serious" authority. In reality, the Jesus-never-lived hypothesis is about as marginal in historical scholarship as young-earth-creationism is in biological science.

Pataki's essay displays a comparable tendency toward competency extrapolation - though, at least he seems to take for granted the historicity of the figure of Jesus. He frequently makes bold historical assertions, which appear to carry force only because of his winsome writing style and good credentials as a philosopher. It certainly is not because they are accurate.

I won't dwell on the small errors, such as the statement that Matthew and Luke were "largely based" on the Q-source (Q accounts for less than 20% of these Gospels' material; hardly any kind of basis).

But I will point to the several historical pontifications in his piece that grossly misrepresent scholarly opinion and highlight again the rhetorical excess of the evangelizing atheists. They will cite any scholarship, even non-scholarship, so long as it furthers the cause of unbelief. They get away with this only because they assume their readership, like the authors themselves, haven't read any serious writings on the subject.


First was Pataki's obvious kicking-against-the-goads of his Jewish heritage:

"There was no Egyptian bondage, covenant on real estate, exodus or conquest. Our best archaeology, history and biblical scholarship tell us that the Israelites crystallized out of local Canaanite peoples and culture, and their exclusive monotheism was a late post-Exilic development shaped by a host of political, cultural and theological influences."

This is an outrageous misrepresentation. It holds up one strand of contemporary archaeology, known as the "minimalist" perspective, as if it stood for all scholarship. Pataki thereby ignores the majority of the field, made up of "maximalists" and "centrists," which would reject the caricature of Israelite history offered in the above paragraph.

Ken Kitchen, for example, has laid out the contemporary evidence for early Israelite monotheism, an Egyptian bondage, a mass exodus and a Canaanite conquest. Kitchen is no maverick. As Professor of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool (retired) he is in an excellent position to assess of the Bible's conviction that the Israelites began their journey to nationhood from the Nile Delta.

By contrast, Pataki's sole authority in these matters is a journalist:

"As Robert Wright affirms in The Evolution of God, virtually no biblical historians today believe that the biblical accounts of these matters are reliable."

That certainly is not true, but my larger question is why Pataki would call as his witness a popular author with no relevant credentials.


And the Robert Wright references don't end there. Pataki cites him later as an authority on "the historical Jesus" too. He tries to make the case that even sublime sayings, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke's Gospel, are "unlikely to have been teachings of the historical Jesus."

This particular parable, he says, is not found in the earliest Gospel (Mark), nor in the early Gospel-source known as Q. It is therefore a late addition, an invention.

Bizarrely, he then adds that the universalistic trend of the parable, where a Samaritan is more morally heroic than a Jewish priest, is contrary to the "historical Jesus's ethnocentric ejaculations." Here, he relies squarely on Wright, whom he quotes as follows:

"The real Jesus believes you should love your neighbours, but that isn't to be confused with loving all humankind. He believes you should love God but there's no mention of God loving you ... 'love your enemy' like 'love your neighbour' is a recipe for Israelite social cohesion, not for interethnic bonding."

Almost everything in Pataki's (and Wright's) foray into biblical commentary is wrong.

While it is true that Mark and Q do not have the parable of the Good Samaritan, most scholars in fact think this teaching comes from the early Gospel-source known as L (see the major studies of K. Paffenroth, J. Fitzmyer and C.F. Evans). That gives it a date earlier than Mark's Gospel and roughly contemporary with Q.

It certainly is not an editorial invention of Luke, as both the grammar and syntax of the parable and its clunky segue from the previous section make clear.

What of the alleged "ethnocentricity" of the historical Jesus. This argument reminds me of a section in Richard Dawkins's God Delusion under the title "Love They Neighbour." Here Dawkins, like Wright and Pataki, tries to suggest that Jesus was nowhere near as kind and loving as Christians make out.

"Jesus was a devotee of the same in-group morality - coupled with out-group hostility - that was taken for granted in the Old Testament."

He freely admits his source for this historical insight, an article in the Skeptic Magazine by John Hartung, whom he enthusiastically describes as an "American physician and evolutionary anthropologist."

How do these credentials qualify someone to dogmatize about what a first-century Palestinian Jew thought, especially when the conclusion is counter to one of the most securely established consensuses of Jesus-scholarship over the last thirty years: Jesus deliberately broke down "out-group hostility."

From E.P. Sanders to M. Borg, from G. Theissen to the Jewish specialist G. Vermes, scholars are in agreement that one of Jesus's core critiques of his own people was their antagonism toward the "sinner," the tax-collector, the Samaritan and the Gentile.

According to a passage in Q (the earliest Gospel-source), the religious elite slandered Jesus as the "friend of sinners." In another Q passage, Jesus declares that the pagans of Tyre and Sidon have more chance of entering God's kingdom than his fellow Jewish communities in Capernaum and Bethsaida. And, finally, yet another Q text has Jesus praise a Roman centurion for his faith and then announce to the astonished home crowd, "Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."

The "universalistic trend" of the parable of the Good Samaritan coheres completely with what our earliest sources say about the teacher from Nazareth.

He was one of a number of Jewish teachers in the period who insisted, largely on the basis of the universalistic hopes of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, that the God of Israel loved all of humanity, the righteous and the wicked alike.

Pataki's attempt to argue otherwise, and his reliance on questionable sources, reveal the disturbing tendency of the new atheists to use any assertion to bolster their case. It is the mirror image of the Christian apologetics of yesteryear. It works for no one but the uninformed or already-convinced.


Pataki's next faux pas concerns the famous incident of the woman caught in adultery, about whom Jesus says in John's Gospel, "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone." It is an "excellent story," writes Pataki, but it "was added centuries after John was written."

He has confused the fact that this narrative doesn't appear in the best manuscripts of John's Gospel, something all modern Bibles acknowledge in their text of John 8, with a conclusion that the story was concocted "centuries" later.

In fact, it is acknowledged that the story has a very ancient, if not first-century, provenance, as C.K. Barrett, J. Charlesworth and others have argued. It is an additional piece of oral testimony that was placed in Luke's Gospel in some ancient manuscripts and in John's in others (usually with a copyist's asterisks to indicate its uncertain origin).

A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, the volume explaining the decisions of the committee that establishes the Greek text of the New Testament (from which modern translations are then made), states that

"the account has all the earmarks of historical veracity. It is obviously a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western Church ... in deference to the evident antiquity of the passage, a majority [of the committee] decided to print it."


But Pataki is at his rashest and, thus, weakest when trying to argue that the West, far from being the product of the biblical worldview, has really inherited its best ideas from the earlier, Graeco-Roman cultures:

"In fact, the fundamentals of our legal, political, civic and economic structures, as well as nearly every fruitful form of investigation, including moral exploration, we owe to Graeco-Roman civilization, itself complex and pluralistic."

Indeed, Pataki thinks that it is only to the degree that Christianity "absorbed and preserved" some of the wisdom of Greece and Rome and "failed to destroy entirely the rest" that we can say that Christendom shaped Western civilization.

His sharpest claim is his most vulnerable, namely, that the Judeo-Christian worldview argues only by parable, poetry and pronouncement, whereas the Greeks insisted that "knowledge entails rational argument."

Moreover, the Bible is a "regression to a more primitive state of affairs," but a true education, as cultivated by the Greeks, urges students to "search for answers in texts or experience, through equations or experiments, and they are asked to justify their answers rationally by appeal to evidence, mathematical proofs and so on."

Pataki fails to describe the real significance of the Greeks and he conflates two types of knowledge that were really quite separate in the ancient world. He is correct to say that the sixth-century BC philosophers launched a revolution in knowledge, centred on a pure rationalism.

As a result, they made huge advances in mathematics (Pythagoras, born 580 BC), offered powerful rationalizations of nature (Aristotle, 384 BC), reasonably accurately calculated celestial movements (Ptolemy, AD 100) and started to explore what we now call medicine (Galen, AD 129).

But for all the advances, there was a major intellectual roadblock at the heart of Greek thought that prevented them from making the leap into what we now think of as science.

The methodology of empirical testing fundamental to our Western intellectual tradition did not come from the Greeks. Indeed, it could not. The Greeks closed the door on verification through experience. "The whole business of testing for truth," says Professor Edwin Judge, a specialist on the reception of Graeco-Roman culture into the modern world and founder of Macquarie University's Ancient History Department, "was explicitly rejected in classical culture as being illogical."

Why? Because the Greeks believed the universe operated according to a fixed, eternal logic, which was accessible to the logical mind of human beings. What was needed in order to comprehend the world, whether the movements of the stars or the circulation of the blood, was not testing but careful reasoning from unchallenged axioms.

So long as we are amply trained, we can think our way to reality. Experimentation was therefore irrational. From Parmenides (born 515 BC) to Aristotle (384 BC), from Chrysippus (280 BC) to Plotinus (AD 205), the Greek intellectual method, for all its advances, erected a giant blockade in front of what we today recognize as the only valid path to true science.

According to Peter Harrison, Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford:

"The revolution which gave rise to a proper natural history was not the result of new facts or observations, nor of the discarding of irrelevant and extraneous material, but of a change to the mental field in which generally accepted facts were located."

This "change in mental field" involved giving up the Greek obsession with rationalism, says Harrison, and adopting the pathway to knowledge called "empiricism," testing by experience.

Rationalism imagines that we can think our way to a true account of the world; empiricism concedes our limited grasp of reality and sets out to observe nature, propose theories to explain it, tests those theories with experiments and invites others to confirm or disprove the explanation.


This revolution in the path to knowledge was the result of the shattering of the Greek worldview by the Judeo-Christian worldview. And we can date it precisely.

In AD 529 the Christian philosopher John Philoponus published his Refutation of Proclus echoing his Refutation of Aristotle. These were a stunning dismantling of the Greek doctrine of the rational, eternal universe in favour of a philosophical defence of the biblical notion of the universe as a created object with a beginning. And this gave us science as we now think of it.

The Oxford Classical Dictionary states things plainly: Philoponus: "influenced subsequent science to Galileo by replacing many of Aristotle's theories with an account centred on the Christian idea that the universe had an absolute beginning."

The breakthrough was immense. If the world is not an eternal, logical system but a creative work of art, we cannot simply think our way to understanding reality.

We must humbly inspect what the Creator, of his own free will, has produced and apply our rational powers of testing to comprehend what He has manufactured. Testing of what is, not rationalizing from first principles, will lead us to the truth about the physical world.

This is precisely the path John Philoponus opened up and it is exactly how the first modern scientists thought about their work. Isaac Newton, John Ray, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, William Harvey, Robert Boyle and the others: they were all inspired by the doctrine that the universe is a work of art from an utterly free Hand, not an eternally rational system.

What was required therefore was not more confident philosophical (or theological) rationalizing about the world but more probing of what is there in front of us, proposing theories about how it might work, testing those theories against other available facts and seeking confirmation from others: in short, the modern scientific method.

The monographs on the origins of science by Oxford's Peter Harrison bear this out in compelling detail.

Tamas Pataki is totally wrong to suggest that the Greeks gave us the path of testing, experience and appeal to evidence. They gave us logic, for sure. But it was the followers of the Bible who insisted that logic alone cannot establish ultimate reality by deduction.

What is needed is "experience" - criticizing hypothesis from evidence and so verifying what is, not what ought logically to be. They applied this method first to the historical discipline, giving birth to the modern practice of history through research into primary sources (another story worth telling), and then to the physical world, giving birth to the empirical sciences.

What is perfectly clear is that Pataki's dewy-eyed ode to the wonders of Greek thought and his caricature of the bumbling "soothsaying" of the Jews and Christians owe more to his own dogma than to either evidence or contemporary scholarship on any of the questions he touches upon.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pray for our new bishops!

Bishop Norman Banks and Bishop Jonathan Baker
at St Alban's Holborn.
To see Graham Howard's photos of the consecration
and the rest of the day go HERE.

This brief report of the consecration of of the new Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough is taken, with thanks, from Fr Ross Northing's blog HERE. (Fr Northing's parish of St Mary & St Giles, Stony Stratford with All Saints, Calverton, is part of the Episcopal See of Ebbsfleet.) Also, to quote Fr Trevor Jones, "The Mass rite was Common Worship with a distinctly Catholic flavour, the preacher was Fr. Bill Scott, wisest of confessors and spiritual directors and domestic Chaplain to the Queen." (Go HERE for Fr Jones' post.) I will put the sermon on this blog when it becomes available.

The Rev’d Dr Jonathan Baker is now the 4th Bishop of Ebbsfleet following a most memorable and inspiring Liturgy of Consecration at Southwark Cathedral when along with Fr Norman Banks he was consecrated Bishop in the Church of God. As the Liturgy started just after 11:00am the Cathedral was packed to standing room only and more continued to arrive. The turn out by the clergy was quite remarkable but the numbers of laity participating was truly humbling.

Parry’s anthem “I was glad” lifted the roof somewhat as the Archbishop and co-consecrating Bishop’s entered the Cathedral; The Provincial Registrar read the Royal Mandate requesting the Archbishop to ordain these two men to the Sees of Ebbsfleet & Richborough; Fr Baker’s young daughter read the first Lection beautifully; you could have heard a pin drop as the two men were consecrated and the final hymn “Ladye of Walsingham” lifted the roof even more.

A reception at Lambeth Palace followed and the Archbishop had been clearly moved by the numbers of people who had attended the Cathedral. Then back to Southwark to the Glazier’s Hall for another reception. The day was not over yet though for the two newly consecrated Bishops as we all journeyed to St Alban’s, Holborn where one of the largest London churches, with its most striking and moving mural on the east wall, was packed to see Bishop Jonathan celebrate Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and Bishop Norman lead the meditation and prayers during it. At the start of this service the hymn “Come down, O love divine” almost exploded forth in what can only be described as a real outpouring of thanksgiving to God for the ‘gift and sign’ of two new Bishops to care for the Priests and People of the Sees of Ebbsfleet & Richborough. Pastoral Staffs were presented to the Bishops along with Pectoral Crosses and then another reception took place. A long, but glorious day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bishop Jack Iker's address to the Forward in Faith North America assembly

One of the great contemporary heroes of orthodoxy among Anglican leaders is the Rt Rev'd Jack Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth. This is his important address to the Forward in Faith North America Assembly at Bellville Illinois, taking place right now. (We continue to pray for Bishop Iker and his diocese as they witness to the Gospel and the Faith once delivered to the saints).

This address comes from the Fort Worth diocesan website HERE.

A few years ago, I was invited to be a guest speaker in the Lenten series of a church on the theme “The Four Cornerstones of the Church.” Their chosen topics were the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and Personal Holiness – all very important, worthy subjects for a study series for Lent. As the first speaker, whose topic was the Bible, I began by pointing out that this was much more than simply one of the four cornerstones of the Church – that all three of the others came from the Holy Scriptures and were, in fact, rooted in the teachings of the Bible. The real significance of the Book of Common Prayer is that it is a thoroughly Biblical document. So much of it sounds like the Bible because it is taken from the Bible. The Ten Commandments are, of course, a central part of the Holy Scriptures, and Personal Holiness has as its source and inspiration and vision, the teachings of the Old and New Testaments. The Holy Scriptures are the foundation upon which the other three are built.

The theme of the teachings in this Annual Assembly reminds us that this is what Forward in Faith, North America, is all about. We have sometimes been criticized for being a one-issue organization, and that is true. But the one issue we are most concerned about is not so much the controversy over the ordination of women as it is the authority of the Scriptures. We are committed to the central authority of the Bible as the Word of God. It alone is the basis for all that we teach, believe, preach and practice. Ours is not a man-made religion, nor are we free to revise the doctrines revealed to us by God to be more pleasing to the modern age. Dean Inge of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London once observed, “He who marries the spirit of the age will soon find himself a widower.”

In the Anglican tradition, the Holy Bible is revered as central to God’s self-revelation to the world. It is the divinely inspired, revealed Word of God, unchanged from the time of the first Apostles. It expresses the unchanging Gospel of the Lord Jesus for ever-changing times – for, though times may change, the Truth does not. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings.” (Hebrews 13:8) Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, tells us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”(John 14:6) When certain bishops deny these words, they are no longer true guardians and defenders of the faith, unity and discipline of the Church, as held by Anglicans around the world. Those who abandon the teachings of the Bible also abandon the Anglican way. Such innovators are free to start a new church, but do not call it Anglican if it does not abide by the clear standards and teachings revealed in Holy Writ.

While being clear that the Bible is basic and fundamental to all that Forward in Faith stands for, that it is the foundation upon which everything stands, we must hasten to add that our faith is not in the Bible, but in Jesus Christ. We believe the Bible, because it is the Written Word that bears witness to the Incarnate Word. We are saved by our faith in Jesus, not the Scriptures. So while we affirm that Anglicanism rests on a firm Biblical foundation, we confess that Jesus Christ Himself is that one foundation upon which the Church of God is built. As St. Paul reminded the Church in Corinth, “No other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 3:11) Historic, orthodox Anglicanism is built upon nothing less than the sure foundation of Jesus Christ, and everything else rests upon Him. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul states it in a slightly different way: “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:20)

Whenever we speak about the authority of the Bible in the Anglican Tradition, the conversation soon turns to references to Richard Hooker, the famous 16th-century Anglican divine, who is perhaps the most accomplished apologist that Anglicanism has ever had. As an advocate of the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559, he opposed the Puritans “who held to the literal following of the Scriptures as an absolute in the sense that whatever was not expressly commanded in Scripture was unlawful.” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church on Richard Hooker, page 654) Most of us remember him for the famous image of a three-legged stool, in describing how Anglicans address the issue of authority in the Church, using Scripture, Tradition and Reason. The problem is that in the common misunderstanding of this concept, the three legs are all equal in importance. This is an error and is not how Hooker regarded them. First and foremost there is the authority of the Bible and the clear meaning of the Scriptures. Second there is Tradition, the Spirit-formed Apostolic Tradition of the Church – the Holy Tradition of the Church of the ages – not just the traditional way that we have always done things, but the mind of Christ as understood and applied by the catholic church. And then third, there is Reason, formed and molded by Scripture and Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit, as we address contemporary issues from the vantage point of what we have received in the faith once delivered to the saints. But, for Hooker, Scripture is always primary. It is the Bible that establishes the norm in theology, ecclesiology, and morality in the Apostolic Tradition.

Modern day revisionists like to add a fourth leg to the stool, which, of course, is Experience. And as we all know, in this line of thinking, contemporary experience trumps everything else. It is our understanding of contemporary experience that determines what is true and right for today’s Church – the kind of thinking that says “that was then and this is now.” We simply have different interpretations of the Bible, they say, and our understanding of the Scriptures must always be open to new insights as we accommodate out of date teachings to our modern day experiences. This is the kind of world view that is rampant in the General Conventions of the Episcopal Church, as you well know. The truth of the matter is that rather than simply having different interpretations of certain key Biblical passages, revisionists reject these teachings, while orthodox believers submit to them. It is the Bible that stands in judgment of our opinions and experiences, not the other way around.

The Articles of Religion are another obvious place we must look to evaluate how classical Anglicans regard Biblical authority. Article VI, for example, states: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” Article XX, speaking of the Authority of the Church, declares: “The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” For the Church must “be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ.”

This same emphasis is further underscored in the provisions of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. First adopted by the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America gathered in Chicago in 1886 as a basis for what is “essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom,” it was later adopted by the Lambeth Conference in 1888. Above all else the Quadrilateral affirms “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.” Note that the three additional points in the Quadrilateral are all derived from the Scriptures and are thoroughly Biblical in origin: the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, “as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith”; “the two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself”; and the Historic Episcopate, after the example of Christ and His Apostles.

It is because of this continuing emphasis on the authority of the Holy Bible that candidates for Holy Orders in our Church must solemnly affirm and then sign this Declaration before the Bishop and congregation: “I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.” Immediately following the laying on of hands at ordinations, the Bishop gives the newly-ordained priest a Bible, as a symbol of the ordinand’s divine authorization and commissioning, saying: “Receive this Bible as a sign of the authority given you to preach the Word of God and to administer his holy Sacraments. Do not forget the trust committed to you as a priest of the Church of God.” It signifies both the ministry of the Word in preaching and teaching, as well as the sacramental ministry of the ordained clergy.

We must also note, however, that in Anglicanism the Bible is central not only to the ministry and teaching of the clergy, but indeed it is fundamental and central to the life of every baptized member of the Church. Remember that wonderful Prayer Book Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent: “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.” To be rooted and grounded in the Scriptures is the calling of all Anglicans, not just the clergy.

Not only do we affirm that the Bible is our ultimate authority in Christian faith and morals, but it is meant to be our daily guide and companion in Christian living. For all Anglicans, daily Bible readings are provided in the Prayer Book lectionary. A Psalm selection, an Old Testament reading, and a new Testament reading are designated for Daily Morning Prayer and again for Daily Evening Prayer, throughout the year. We are fed by this daily diet of God’s Word. We are drawn to the Bible as our daily bread and sustained by it, as God’s Living Word directing our service and discipleship, by divine inspiration. As St. Paul reminds us in II Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” If we neglect daily Scripture, we do so at the peril of our spiritual health and vitality.

It is for this reason that early English reformers sought to have the Bible translated into the language of the people. It was God’s Word to all His Children, not just to the clergy and to the monastics. Efforts to translate the Scriptures into English were motivated by a desire to make the Bible available to common people for reading and study and began as early as the 14th century with the work of John Wycliffe. In 1523, William Tyndale began a translation of the books of the New Testament, and in 1534, the Canterbury Convocation of clergy petitioned King Henry VIII to have the entire Bible translated into English. Miles Coverdale successfully published one the next year, in 1535, and dedicated it to Henry VIII. It is significant to note that his Psalter remained in constant use in the Book of Common Prayer until modern day revisions of the 20th century. Though there were attempts at various other translations over the years, it must be said that the real crowning event in work on an English Bible took place in 1611 with the publication of what was called the Authorized Version, approved by King James I, and therefore known as the King James Version of the Bible (or as some of us may prefer, “The St. James Version.” How does that saying go, “If it was good enough for Jesus then its good enough for me!”) It is this Bible that became the standard, indeed the only known English Bible, for generations, and is now celebrating its 400th anniversary of continuous use. It is a lasting contribution of Anglicanism to the whole English-speaking world.

Like countless others before us, in reading the Bible we discover that it is the Book with the Presence in it, where we meet the Living God in the pages of the Old and New Testaments. God continues to speak to us still today, as He has in every age, as men and women pray and reflect on the Biblical story. It is called the Holy Bible, and it has been revered for centuries. For in these sacred pages, we encounter the Living God, who seeks to enter into relationship with us. It is a book about God, and it is a book about ourselves.

Again and again, the Bible has re-created and re-formed the Church in times of crisis. Again and again, people have heard God speak to them and been brought to faith by Scripture touching them personally. Here as nowhere else, we discover God’s will for our lives and find inspiration and guidance in our earthly pilgrimage. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to speak to us, to strengthen us, and to guide us. For as Hebrews 4:12 says: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

In a book by Bishop Michael Marshall entitled A Change of Heart, he writes about the power of the Bible to transform and change people’s lives. In quoting Benjamin Jowett, Professor of Greek at Oxford in the 1850s, who said that the Bible should be read like any other book, Marshall says: “The extraordinary thing about the Bible is that if you ‘treat it like any other book,’ you will find that it is not like any other book. It is a living book, a charismatic book, a book of presence and power. Men and women throughout the ages have opened up on the words of this book and met the living Word in a personal encounter which changed their lives.” (p. 128)

He then recalls the famous story of the conversion of St. Antony of Egypt, who upon hearing the Gospel being read in church one day, heard Jesus speaking directly to him, saying: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”(St. Matthew 19:21) And immediately, Antony gave away all his possessions and went out into the desert to live a strict life of asceticism.

In a similar way, St. Augustine of Hippo on a warm summer day in the year 386, heard what sounded like the voice of a child in a nearby garden saying: “tolle, lege – pick it up and read it.” So he picked up a Bible and read from the Epistle to the Romans: “Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:13-14) Bishop Marshall writes: “Like a flash all his intellectual wrangling and moral ambivalence were behind him. The living Word of God changed his life.” (page 129) He was baptized and became a devoted Christian believer, and later a bishop, theologian, doctor of the church, and saint.

We could go on and on with countless other stories of conversion and coming to faith where the Bible played a key role. You have your story and I have mine. But what they have in common is coming to know God face to face, in the person of Jesus Christ His Son, as the Spirit of God speaks to us by the Word of God, and we are transformed by His love, power and grace. “It is not a magic book or an end in itself,” observes Marshall (page 129); “rather it is a wonderful means of grace, pointing us again and again from the words to the Word with a living word of comfort, strength, challenge and confrontation if only we have ‘ears to hear’ and ‘eyes to see.’” (Matthew 11:15)

Let us conclude with these stirring words of a great Anglican missionary hymn, that speaks to the power of God’s Word in our tradition:

Spread, o spread, thou mighty word, spread the kingdom of the Lord,
that to earth’s remotest bound all may heed the joyful sound;

word of how the Father’s will made the world, and keeps it, still;
how his only Son he gave, earth from sin and death to save;

word of how the Savior’s love, earth’s sore burden doth remove;
how forever, in its need, through his death the world is freed;

word of how the Spirit came bringing peace in Jesus’ name;
how his never failing love, guides us on to heaven above;

word of life, most pure and strong, word for which the nations long,
spread abroad, until from night, all the word awakes to light. (Hymnal 1982, Hymn 530)

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Holy Spirit shows us the face of Christ

"Descent of the Holy Spirit", Giorgio Vasari,
Santa Croce Church, Florence, Italy, 16th century.

Over at the Biblicalia blog there are notes of discussions on the Holy Spirit led by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware at Building the Body of Christ: A Weekend of Spiritual Enlightenment, hosted by the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascenscion in Oakland, California in February 2008. All the notes are well worth reading. Here are some of the things Kallistos Ware said in the second session about the Holy Spirit:

My grandmother long ago once wondered, "Why is the Holy Spirit never mentioned in sermons? Hearing of Him is liking hearing news of an old friend one hasn't heard of in a long time."

We will hear of news of this old friend today. St Symeon the New Theologian wrote this invocation to the Holy Spirit:

Come, true light.
Come, life eternal.
Come, hidden mystery.
Come, treasure without name.
Come, reality beyond all words.
Come, person beyond all understanding.
Come, rejoicing without end.
Come, light that knows no evening.
Come, unfailing expectation of the saved.
Come, raising of the fallen.
Come, resurrection of the dead.
Come, all-powerful, for unceasingly your create,
refashion and change all things by your will alone.
Come, invisible whom none may touch and handle.
Come, for you continue always unmoved,
yet at every instant you are wholly in movement;
you draw near to us who lie in hell,
yet you remain higher than the heavens.
Come, for your name fills our hearts with longing and is ever on our lips;
yet who you are and what your nature is, we cannot say or know.
Come, Alone to the alone.
Come, for you are yourself the desire that is within me.
Come, my breath and my life.
Come, the consolation of my humble soul.
Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight.

Notice three things that St Symeon says regarding the Holy Spirit:

1.) Symeon speaks of the Spirit as light, joy, glory, endless delight, rejoicing without end, and so on. Saint Seraphim of Sarov said that the Holy Spirit fills with joy whatever he touches.

2.) The Spirit is also full of hope, for he looks forward to the age to come.

3.) There is also the nearness yet otherness of the Spirit. He is "everywhere present" [from the prayer, O Heavenly King] yet mysterious and elusive. Symeon calls him "my breath and my life," "hidden mystery," "beyond all words," "beyond all understanding." We know him, but we do not see his face, for he always shows us the face of Christ. Like the air around us, which enables us to see and be seen, he is transparent and enables us to see and hear Christ. He is not to be classified, baffling our computers and filing cabinets. As the Lord said, "The wind blows where it wills, snd you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes" [Jn 3.8]. As C. S. Lewis wrote in the first of his Narnia Chronicles books, Aslan "is not a tame lion." The Holy Spirit is not a tame spirit, either. The Spirit makes Christ close to us, establishing that relationship.

There are two fundamental things about the Holy Spirit:

1.) He is understood in Scripture and Tradition as a Person, not just an impersonal force. Christ is obviously a Person. It is not as obvious with the Holy Spirit, but he is a Person in the experience of the Church. Note Ephesians 4.30: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Impersonal forces do not feel grief, do not feel love. You may love your computer, but your computer does not love you. Our sins, selfishness, and lack of love cause the Holy Spirit grief. He weeps over it.

2.) The Holy Spirit is equal to the other two Persons of the Trinity. From the Creed: "worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son." Together, not below. Also, "Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit," all on the same level.

Gregory of Nyssa said, "Never think of Christ without the Holy Spirit." We could reverse that too: never think of the Holy Spirit without Christ.

Irenaeus described the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father, who always uses both hands together. To better understand the Holy Spirit's work, look at the cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Son.

In the Creed: "incarnate by the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary." In the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit sends Christ into the world.

The Troparion for Theophany: "When you, O Lord, were baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. For the voice of the Father bore witness unto you, calling you the beloved Son, and the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed His word as sure and true." The Spirit descends from the Father and rests on the Son, the same relationship as in the Incarnation. The Holy Spirit sends the Son into public ministry.

In the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ as a cloud of light, as understood by the Fathers.

In the Resurrection, Christ is raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul in Romans [1.4] calls Christ "the Son of God in power according to the Spirit."

In the Incarnation and Baptism, the Holy Spirit sends Christ into the world. In Pentecost, Christ sends the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and thence into the world. In the First Gospel reading on Holy Thursday evening [Jn 13.31-38; 14.1-31; 15.1-27; 16.1-33; 17.1-26; 18.1] we hear "The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. He will bear witness to me. He will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you [Jn 14.26; 15.26; 16.13-14]. The Holy Spirit testifies not to himself but to Christ, in a natural diakonia.

Christology and Pneumatology are inseparable. The Holy Spirit, the go-between God, establishes the relationship between us and Christ. He shows us not his own face, but the face of Christ.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

With or Without the Holy Spirit? (Pentecost 2011)

Today we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church of Jesus. My prayer for all readers of this blog - whatever tradition you belong to, or whatever spirituality nourishes your walk with God at this time of your life - is that you will have the joy of entering more deeply than ever before into the mystery of Pentecost; that the love, the power, the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit will be released afresh in you and in the church communities of which you are part.

Let's not forget that the Holy Spirit seeks to transform us - individuals and communities - into the image of Jesus, and this sometimes means that we know his presence even more in the wilderness than when things are going well. Indeed, when this is so our understanding of "spiritual warfare" is renewed (as it ought to be the more we ponder the things that form the context for our life and witness today!).

I offer you these reflections.

by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the the Papal Household

Everyone has on some occasion seen people pushing a stalled car trying to get it going fast enough to start. There are one or two people pushing from behind and another person at the wheel. If it does not get going after the first try, they stop, wipe away the sweat, take a breath and try again.

Then suddenly there is a noise, the engine starts to work, the car moves on its own and the people who were pushing it straighten themselves up and breathe a sigh of relief.

This is an image of what happens in Christian life. One goes forward with much effort, without great progress. But we have a very powerful engine ("the power from above!") that only needs to be set working. The feast of Pentecost should help us to find this engine and see how to get it going.

The account from the Acts of the Apostles begins thus: "When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all together in the same place."

In the Old Testament there were two interpretations of the feast of Pentecost. At the beginning there was the feast of the seven weeks, the feast of the harvest, when the first fruits of grain were offered to God, but then, and certainly during Jesus' time, the feast was enriched with a new meaning: It was the feast of the conferral of the law and of the covenant on Mount Sinai.

If the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church precisely on the day in which Israel celebrated the feast of the law and the covenant, this indicates that the Holy Spirit is the new law, the spiritual law that sealed the new and eternal covenant. A law that is no longer written on stone tablets but on tablets of flesh, on the hearts of men.

These considerations immediately provoke a question: Do we live under the old law or the new law? Do we fulfill our religious duties by constraint, by fear and habit, or rather by an intimate conviction and almost by attraction? Do we experience God as a father or a boss?

These words are part of an address to the 1968 Assembly of the World Council of Churches by Patriarch Ignatius when he was Metropolitan of Latakia. They have been quoted a good deal since then, and are used HERE in a sermon of Father Michael Harper, a pioneer of global and ecumenical charismatic renewal, and for the last period of his life a priest of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Without the Holy Spirit . . .

God is far away.
Christ stays in the past,
The Gospel is simply an organisation,
Authority is a matter of propaganda,
The Liturgy is no more than an evolution,
Christian loving a slave mentality.

But in the Holy Spirit . . .

The cosmos is resurrected and grows with the
birth pangs of the kingdom.
The Risen Christ is there,
The Gospel is the power of life,
The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
Authority is a liberating science,
Mission is a Pentecost,
The Liturgy is both renewal and anticipation,
Human action is deified.

Finally, here are two very different hymns for today. The first is Edward Caswall's 1849 English translation of the thirteenth century Latin Sequence before the Gospel at the Pentecost Mass.

The second is a modern renewal song adapted from a longer piece by Bill Gaither.

Come, thou Holy Spirit, come;
And from thy celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine;
Come, thou Father of the poor;
Come, thou source of all our store;
Come, within our bosoms shine;

Thou, of comforters the best;
Thou, the soul's most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.

O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill,
Where thou art not, man hath naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away;
Bend the stubborn heart and will
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

On the faithful, who adore
And confess thee, evermore
In thy sev'nfold gift descend;
Give them virtue's sure reward;
Give them thy salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

* * * * * * *

Come, Holy Spirit, we need thee.
Come, Holy Spirit we pray.
Come in thy strength and thy power.
Come in thine own gentle way.

Come as the wisdom to children.
Come as new sight to the blind.
Come, Lord as strength in our weakness.
Heal us, soul, body and mind.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Video Message from Fr Jonathan Baker

At Southwark Cathedral on Thursday of this coming week, Fr Jonathan Baker will be consecrated to become Bishop of Ebbsfleet and Fr Norman Banks to become Bishop of Richborough. Orthodox Anglicans around the world are heartened by the decision taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury to replace the two Provincial Episcopal Visitors who became Roman Catholics six months ago when the Ordinariate was set up in England.

This is an encouraging sign that those who do not believe in the rightness of the ordination of women are still regarded as loyal Anglicans. It is also an example to other provinces of the Anglican Communion of the bare minimum required in order to provide satisfactory ongoing pastoral and sacramental care for all those women and men who in conscience are unable to affirm the ordination of women during what is still officially regarded as the "process of reception".

We pray for God's blessing on Fr Jonathan and Fr Norman.

Here is a short message from Fr Jonathan Baker:

Friday, June 10, 2011

J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis - Literary Friends

Using diary entries, letters among friends and other direct sources, Professor Christopher Mitchell illustrates how sharing a mutual faith formed the crux of the creatively fruitful friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. A study first and foremost in how friendship can change lives, Professor Mitchell's lecture is a must for anyone wanting to understand these two authors.

(Produced by University of California TV)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Sunday of the Upper Room

Before Jesus entered the glory of the heavenly sanctuary as our great High Priest, the cloud taking him "out of their sight", he told his followers not to leave Jerusalem but to "wait for the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4). Then he reassured them, "You shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Clearly he said that because of the difficulty of living for him in our own strength, going forth to evangelise just with our human insights and abilities, or trying to establish his New Community, the Church merely as a sociological reality. "Power from on high" was what they needed for their mission. And it's what we desperately need, too.

So, leaving Mount Olivet they returned to Jerusalem, to the upper room. We read that there were "about 120" of them, not just the Apostles. This was the nucleus of the first Church. They waited "with Mary" for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them. "With one accord" they "devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14).

Our Lady's presence with the praying Church is emphasised in the iconography of the East as well as in the art of the West. What was she doing there? I can't prove this, of course, but to me it seems very likely that she was helping the others prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We know that she "kept" all the things that had happened to her, "pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19, 51).

Can't you imagine Mary calming the others by sharing her testimony (maybe even in the words of the Magnificat - Luke 1:46-55)?

Can't you hear her telling the others that their relationship with her Son could be like her relationship with him if they will only "hear the Word of God and do it" (Luke 8:21 & Luke 11:28).

Is it unreasonable to think of her nurturing in them the openness to the Lord in prayer so evident in her all those years before when she had said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38)?

And then, don't you think she would have reminded them that as the promise made to her by the angel, "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," had been fulfilled (Luke 1:35), so the "promise of the Father" to them will likewise be fulfilled?

I always think of the Sunday between Ascension day and Pentecost as THE SUNDAY OF THE UPPER ROOM. I'm sure that Mary, the Mother of all her Son's people, prays with us and for us today as we seek to be renewed and empowered by that same Holy Spirit of love.

It was the ancient practice of the Church to have a proper "Vigil" of Pentecost. Perhaps Christian congregations of all traditions could do with an all-night prayer meeting culminating in the Mass of Pentecost. Wouldn't that be wonderful!

Whatever we do, let's pray with Our Lady for the renewal of the Church, and for Christian unity. You see, Pentecost is not just about the empowerment of the Church; it is also about the unity that the Holy Spirit brings about. In fact, my heart's desire in praying for Christian unity has always been for the Church of Jesus to be fully catholic, evangelical, and pentecostal all at once, while again breathing deeply with both eastern and western lungs as she loves a broken and wounded world back to God. How dynamic would that be! Well, I believe that's what God wants for his Church as well, not just for his sake or for our sakes, but so that a hurting world will believe.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh on Waiting for the Holy Spirit

Are you risen with Christ? Are you where He is? Is your life hid in God with Christ?. What does it really mean to us? It means that if we are dead with the death of Christ to everything which is destructive of love, destructive of compassion, which is self-centredness, which is self-love, which leaves no space for anyone but ourselves - if we are dead to all this, and if we have accepted life on Christ's terms, ready to live for others, live for God, live for the joy and life of those who surround us - then we are risen with Christ, and our life is indeed hid with Christ in God, it is at the very depth of God, at the very depth of divine love! And then we can turn to the earth; then, instead of possessing we can serve, instead of overpowering we can try to bring this earth of ours, in an act of love, in an act of reverence to be free, to be God's earth, to be able to bring fruit, not as it does being raped, being violently possessed by us, but giving us its fruit in an act of responsive love. And the same applies to our tasks; we are called to serve, we are called to make of all our life an act of concern, of love, of service - then, all that we do becomes an act of God, then it becomes meaningful and it does not separate us from God.
And if joy has come into our heart, it is a gift of God; if sorrow has come into our heart, we can carry it to God, for it to be integrated in the mystery of salvation!

Let us reflect on this! Let us truly lay aside all the cares of this life in the sense that let us not be prisoners, but free: Christ has come to set us free. And then the earth, and our labour, and our joys, and our sorrows and everyone on earth will become part of the Kingdom of God. Then indeed, our life will be hid with Christ in God, but a God Who have chosen so to love the world as to be incarnate, to become man among men, to take upon Himself all the human destiny, createdness, life in a fallen world, the consequences of human sin, and even the loss of God which is what kills. And, having accepted it all in an act of saving and redempting love, He has risen, and anyone can enter into eternal life, the life of the resurrection by uniting himself or herself to Christ. Amen.
(December 1989)

St Charles Lwanga and his companions, Martyrs of Uganda

Painting at the Namugongo Seminary
which is part of the Anglican Shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs.

Charles Lwanga (also known as Karoli Lwanga) was born in 1860 and was martyred on 3rd June, 1886.

In 1875 the explorer Henry Stanley reached Buganda (earlier name for Uganda). Very shortly afterwards the first missionaries came to Buganda, the Anglicans in 1877 and the Roman Catholics in 1879. The arrival of missionaries set the stage for a marked turning point in the religious life of the people of Buganda.

King Mutesa, who never converted and died a tribal traditionalist, dealt astutely with the various forces of Islam, tribal religions and Christianity that were vying for the souls of the Bugandans. However, upon his death in 1884, eighteen year old Mwanga II ascended to the Bugandan throne. His reign would prove extremely hostile to the new religions, especially Christianity.

One of the first Christians to be martyred under his reign was James Hannington, the initial Anglican Archbishop sent to Buganda. Shortly before arriving at the court of Mwanga, he and his party were intercepted. Archbishop Hannington and his entire party were killed in 1885.

King Mwanga began to insist Christian converts abandon their new faith and executed many Anglican and Roman Catholics between 1885 and 1887. After the first three martyrs were executed, Joseph Mukasa, a senior advisor to the king and a Roman Catholic convert, condemned the king for ordering the death of Archbishop Hannington without being given a chance for him to defend himself which was a Bugandan custom. Mwamba, annoyed that his rulings would be questioned, had him beheaded in November 1885. He was the fourth martyr and the first Roman Catholic.

On a visit to the capital in 1880, Charles Lwanga became interested in the teachings of the missionaries and began to attend their instruction. On accession of King Mwanga, Lwanga went to the court and entered royal service. His leadership qualities were such that he was placed in charge of the royal pages (lowest of the servants) and he immediately won the confidence and affection of his charges.

His immediate leader was the future martyr, Joseph Mukasa, who relied more and more completely on Lwanga for the instruction and guidance of the royal pages. He also shielded them from homosexual advances at court, especially those of the king.

Upon Mukasa's martyrdom, Lwanga and many other pages went to the Roman Catholic Mission and were baptized. The following day, the king assembled all the pages and demanded that they confess their Christian belief. All but three did so. Mwanga was baffled by the solidarity and constancy of the young Christians and hesitated to carry out his threat to kill them all. Several times near the end of 1885, the king tried to intimidate his pages in spite of visits from both Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries.

After the fire in the royal palace in February 1886, Mwanga moved the royal court to the shores of Lake Victoria. Here Lwanga continued to protect the pages from the king's sexual advances and to prepare them for possible martyrdom. Lwanga baptized some of the pages himself.

On 26th May, 1886, the pages were once again called before the king to receive their judgment, declaring they were ready to die for their faith rather than to deny it. Mwanga ordered them all, ten Anglicans and sixteen Roman Catholics to be burnt alive. As they were being led to their execution an eyewitness commented on how tightly they were bound, but more especially their calmness and even joyful disposition on their faces.

The martyrs were marched eight miles to their execution site and kept in confinement for a week because the execution pyres were not completed until 2nd June. During that time the martyrs prayed and sang together, while the missionaries, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, paid fruitless visits to the king to appeal for their young neophytes.

On June 3rd, before killing the main body of prisoners, Charles Lwanga was put to death on a small pyre on a hill above the execution place. He was wrapped in a reed mat, with a slave yoke on his neck, but he was allowed to arrange the pyre himself. To make him suffer the more, the fire was lit under his feet and legs first. These were burnt to charred bones before the flames were allowed to reach the rest of his body. Taunted by his executioner, Charles replied: 'You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body." He then remained quietly praying. Just before the end, he cried out in a loud voice "Katonda," (My God"). After his death, the rest were burnt further down the hill.

Charles Lwanga and the other Roman Catholic martyrs were declared "blessed" by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. All twenty-two were canonized (The Ugandan Martyrs) by Pope Paul VI in 1964, who spoke also of the Anglicans as "worthy of mention for enduring death for the name of Christ." Among those who were martyred, was also an Anglican page by the same name Charles Lwanga.

Rather than halting the spread of Christianity, these early believers seem to have sparked growth. Following the executions, many were seen carrying their Bibles in public. These seeds of faith became the impulse that eventually sparked the Great East African Revival in the Twentieth Century which has led to Uganda being one of the most Christian nations in the world. A third of the population is Anglican, a third Roman Catholic and the remaining third made up of Protestants, Muslims and atheists.