Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Loving the Storm-Drenched . . . by Frederica Mathewes-Green

For a long time I have read thought-provoking articles by Frederica Mathewes-Green. They have appeared in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, the Los Angeles Times, First Things, Books & Culture, Sojourners, Touchstone, the Wall Street Journal, the Religion News Service, Beliefnet.com, and her podcast “Frederica Here and Now” is carried on Ancient Faith Radio. She has published nine books, and is a well known speaker on university campuses throughout the USA. 

Frederica lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Baltimore, MD, where he is pastor and she is “Khouria” (“Mother”) of the parish they founded, Holy Cross Orthodox Church. Their three children are grown and married, and they have eleven grandchildren. 

Her fascinating pilgrimage, is told in three parts: 

Frederica's website HERE is a treasure trove of her writings on a whole range of subjects. I encourage you to explore it. 

This article, from the website, was published in Christianity Today, March 2006, and selected for Best American Spiritual Writing in 2007: 


If you hang around with Christians, you find that the same topic keeps coming up in conversation: their worries about “the culture.” Christians talk about sex and violence in popular entertainment. They talk about bias in news reporting. They talk about how their views are ignored or misrepresented. “The culture” appears to be an aggressive challenge to “the church,” and Christians keep worrying over what to do about it. 

You soon get the impression that Church, Inc., and Culture Amalgamated are like two corporations confronting each other at a negotiating table. Over there sits The Culture—huge, complex, and self-absorbed. It’s powerful, dangerous, unpredictable, and turbulent. The Church is smaller, anxious; it studies the culture, trying to figure out a way to weasel in. 

But there are flaws in this picture. For one thing, neither party is as monolithic as it seems. There are many devout believers among the ranks of journalists and entertainers, and there are even more culture-consumers among the ranks of devout believers. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to avoid absorbing this culture; if you sealed the windows, it would leak under the door. I once heard a retreat leader say she’d attempted a “media fast,” but found the gaudy world met her on every side. “I may be free in many ways,” she said, “But I am not free to not know what Madonna is doing.” 

Furthermore, the church is not a corporation; rather, it is incorporate, or better, incarnate, carried in the vulnerable bodies of fallible individuals who love and follow Jesus Christ. The culture is even less of an organization. It is more like a photomosaic, composed of tiny faces, faces of the millions of people—or billions, rather, thanks to the worldwide toxic leak of American entertainment—who are caught up in its path. 

The influence of the culture on all those individuals, including Christians, is less like that of a formal institution and more like the weather. We can observe that, under current conditions, it’s cloudy with a chance of cynicism. Crudity is up, nudity is holding steady, and there is a 60 percent chance that any recent movie will include a shot of a man urinating. Large fluffy clouds of sentimental spirituality are increasing on the horizon, but we have yet to see whether they will blow toward or away from Christian truth. Stay tuned for further developments. 

As Mark Twain famously remarked, everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. I think much of our frustration is due to trying to steer the weather, rather than trying to reach individuals caught up in the storm. 

It’s possible to influence weather within limits, to seed clouds for rain, for example. And it is right for us to consider what we can do to provide quality fiction, films, and music, and to prepare young Christians to work in those fields. We can do some things that can help improve ongoing conditions. But it is futile to think that we will one day take over the culture and steer it. It’s too ungainly. It is composed of hundreds of competing sources. No one controls it. 

What’s more, it is already changing—constantly, ceaselessly, seamlessly—changing whether we want it to or not, in ways we can’t predict, much less control. If you take the cultural temperature at any given moment, you will find that some of the bad things are starting to fade, and improvement is beginning to appear; simultaneously, some good things are starting to fall out of place, and a new bad thing is emerging. 

Not only can we not control this process, we can’t even perceive it, until changes are so far developed as to be entrenched. Chasing the culture is a way to guarantee that you will always be a step behind the times. 

Waiting for Fun to Hurt 

One of my favorite classic films is It Happened One Night (1934), starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. This comedy won five Academy Awards and deserved them; it has some of the most original characters and clever writing you’ll find in any American film. The underlying premise is that a couple will not have sex before marriage, and this romantic tension drives the plot. 

Yet that does not guarantee uniform “positive values.” In It Happened One Night everyone smokes, including the heroine (while wearing her wedding gown). It’s not even safe smoking: we see the hero light up in a haystack. What’s more, the hero regularly directs physical threats at the heroine; he says, for example, “She needs someone to take a sock at her once a day, whether she’s got it coming to her or not.” While the cultural barometer in recent decades has been falling on sexual morality, indicators for smoking and violence against women have indisputably improved. 

But the most striking element is the attitude toward drunkenness. The first time we see Gable’s character he is roaring drunk, and this is assumed to be hilarious. His drunkenness is encouraged and subsidized by other characters. In the post-Prohibition decades, being drunk (as opposed to merely drinking) was seen as rebellious, cool, and fashionable, and people who objected were depicted as prudes and squares. That fad eventually passed, when the damage done by alcoholism could no longer be romanticized away. 

Now, in the post-sexual revolution decades, being promiscuous is seen as rebellious, cool, and fashionable, and people who object are depicted as prudes and squares. That fad too will eventually pass, when the damage done by abortion, divorce, and sexually transmitted diseases can no longer be romanticized away. 

We cannot instigate this change by appealing to morality, but simple common sense has a stubborn tendency to re-emerge. By the ’70s it was becoming apparent that alcoholism dealt too much disease, divorce, and family disintegration to be all that funny. This change was not achieved by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union finally coming up with the bulls-eye slogan that would “change hearts and minds.” Instead, people just came to their senses. 

But note that when the WCTU is mentioned today, it’s still seen as a bastion of prudes and squares. They were not vindicated, even though they turned out to be right. And it may be the same with us. We may always be seen as prudes and squares. Despite this, sexual common sense is likely to re-emerge. (It happened once before: films of the 1920s through 1950s reflect an acceptance of male adultery that would be horrifying today. We presume that these old movies will showcase “old-fashioned values,” and they do; we just don’t realize what those values were.) So sometimes cultures shift for the better. When so-called fun hurts enough, people stop doing it. 

The Pounding Storm 

The culture, then, is like the weather. We may be able to participate in it in some modest ways, seeding the clouds, but it is a recipe for frustration to expect that we can direct it. Nor should we expect positive change without some simultaneous downturn in a different corner. Nor should we expect that any change will be permanent. The culture will always be shifting, and it will always be with us. 

God has not called us to change the weather. Our primary task as believers, and our best hope for lasting success, is to care for individuals caught up in the pounding storm. They are trying to make sense of their lives with inadequate resources, confused and misled by the Evil One, and unable to tell their left hand from their right (Jonah 4:11). They are not a united force; they are not even in solidarity with each other, apart from the unhappy solidarity of being molded by the same junk-food entertainment. They are sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless (Matt. 9:36). Only from a spot of grounded safety can anyone discern what to approve and what to reject in the common culture. 

But we must regretfully acknowledge that we too are shaped by the weather in ways we do not realize. Most worryingly, it has induced us to think that the public square is real life. We are preoccupied with that external world, when our Lord’s warnings have much more to do with our intimate personal lives, down to the level of our thoughts. 

So, when Christians gather, there’s less talk about humility, patience, and the struggle against sin. Instead, there’s near-obsessive emphasis on the need for a silver-bullet media product that will magically open the nation to faith in Jesus Christ. Usually, the product they crave is a movie. Now, I’m delighted that Christians are working in Hollywood; we should be salt and light in every community that exists, and so powerful a medium clearly merits our powerful stories. But it’s telling that the media extravaganza so eagerly awaited is not a novel or a song, something an individual might undertake, but a movie: something that will require enormous physical and professional resources, millions of dollars, and, basically, be done by somebody else. 

This focus on an external, public signal is contrary to the embodied mission of the church. Christ planned to attract people to himself through the transformed lives of his people. It’s understandable that we feel chafed by what media giants say about us and the things we care about, and that we crave the chance to tell our own side of the story. It’s as if the world’s ballpark is ringed with billboards, and we rankle because we should have a billboard too. But if someone should actually see our billboard, and be intrigued, and walk in the door of a church, he would find that he had joined a community that was just creating another billboard. 

A Common Enemy 

One excellent way to see how much our culture’s passing weather patterns have influenced us is to read old books. If you receive all your information from contemporary writers, Christian or secular, you will never perceive whole concepts that people in other generations could see. (For example, earlier generations of Christians perceived a power in sexual purity that eludes us completely; we can only fall back on “don’t”s.) Every Christian should always have at his bedside at least one book that is at least fifty years old—the older the better. 

Sure, you can make yourself read the contemporary magazines and authors you disagree with, but even they share the same underlying assumptions. It’s as if we see our “culture war” opponents standing on the cold peak of an iceberg. From our corresponding peak, all we can discern between is an expanse of dark water. But underneath that water, the two peaks are joined in a single mass. The common assumptions we share are invisible to us, but they will be perceived, and questioned, by our grandchildren. 

C.S. Lewis has a wonderful passage on this phenomenon in his introduction to St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation: “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” 

The “old books” can help us discern the prevailing assumptions of our cultural moment, not only concerning the content of our discussions, but their style. We expect that combatants will be casual, rather than formal. We expect that their arguments will be illustrated by popular culture, rather than the classics or history. Conservatives and liberals agree that it is admirable to be rebellious and challenge authority, and both sides are at pains to present the other side as authority. 

More serious, however, is a tone of voice we adopt from the culture: sarcastic, smart-alecky, jabbing, and self-righteous. We feel the sting of such treatment, and give it right back; we feel anger or even wounded hatred toward those on the “other side.” But God does not hate them; he loves them so much he sent his Son to die for them. We are told to pray for those who persecute us, and to love our enemies. The weight of antagonistic and mocking big-media machinery is the closest thing we’ve got for practicing that difficult spiritual discipline. If we really love these enemies, we will want the best for them, the very best thing we have, which is the knowledge and love of God. 

Smart-alecky speech doesn’t even work. It may win applause but it does not win hearts. It hardens the person who feels targeted, because he feels mocked and misrepresented. It increases bad feeling and anger. No one changed his mind on an issue because he was humiliated into it. In fact, we are misguided even to think of our opponents in the “culture wars” as enemies in the first place. They are not our enemies, but hostages of the Enemy. We have a common Enemy who seeks to destroy us both, by locking them in confusion, and by luring us to self-righteous pomposity. 

Culture is not a monolithic power we must defeat. It is the battering weather conditions that people, harassed and helpless, endure. We are sent out into the storm like a St. Bernard with a keg around our neck, to comfort, reach, and rescue those who are thirsting, most of all, for Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis on Atheism

I recently had an email discussion with a friend about C.S. Lewis and atheism. It is important to accept the observation that "proofs" for belief and unbelief alike do not in practice rest on one big persuasive argument, but on the accumulation of probabilities. Our own temperaments and experiences of life play a role in how we see the "evidence" and even how weigh the probabilities. Reason, faith, and evidence are all to some degree present in "believer" and "atheist" alike. One fascinating area of Lewis' apologetic writing is his view that our confidence in rationality is unfounded if we opt for atheism. Here are some of his well-known passages on this subject:

ON ATHEISM AND MEANING (in Mere Christianity, pp. 38-39)  

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too - for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist - in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless - I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality - namely my idea of justice - was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning." 


“Reason might conceivably be found to depend on [another reason] and so on; it would not matter how far this process was carried provided you found Reason coming from Reason at each stage. It is only when you are asked to believe in Reason coming from non-reason that you must cry Halt. Human minds. They do not come from nowhere.” 

ON REASONING TO ATHEISM (in The Case for Christianity, p. 32)  

"Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Uniess I belleve in God, I cannot belleve in thought. So I can never use thought to disbelieve in God." 

ON "NATURALISM" REFUTING ITSELF  (from Religion Without Dogma, in Timeless at Heart: Essays in Theology, p. 95) 

“It would be impossible to accept naturalism itself if we really and consistently believed naturalism. For naturalism is a system of thought. But for naturalism all thoughts are mere events with irrational causes. It is, to me at any rate, impossible to regard the thoughts which make up naturalism in that way and, at the same time, to regard them as a real insight into external reality…. If naturalism were true then all thoughts whatever would be wholly the result of irrational causes. Therefore, all thoughts would be equally worthless. Therefore, naturalism is worthless. If it is true, then we can know no truths. It cuts its own throat…. Naturalism refutes itself. Whatever else we may come to believe about the universe, at least we cannot believe naturalism. The validity of rational thought, accepted in an utterly non-naturalistic, transcendental (if you will), supernatural sense, is the necessary presupposition of all other theorising. There is simply no sense in beginning with a view of the universe and trying to fit the claims of thought in at a later stage. By thinking at all we have claimed that our thoughts are more than mere natural events.”

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mother was a Revolutionary (Catherine de Hueck Doherty)

Catherine Doherty (1896-1985) grew up in Russia. Go HERE for more details of her life. In this passage she gives us a glimpse of the mother who influenced her so greatly. 

My mother had revolutionary ideas, in the Christian sense. She believed that all Christians must love one another! She translated this love into direct action, especially by involvement with the poor. She was a talented concert pianist, and during her under-graduate years at the Conservatory of St. Petersburg, she "went to the people" every summer. This means that she hired herself out for a few rubles as a maid, to just the type of people that Joseph and Mary were: worker-peasants. 

Her days there were strenuous. She got up early, helped with the cleaning, prepared the breakfast, did the washing all by hand, went on with the chores of the day, prepared lunch and dinner, cleaned - whatever this peasant family needed. By fall she had also succeeded in teaching the whole family how to read and write. 

I have always attributed my vocation, at least in part, to my parents, especially my mother. She went to the poor people, because, like other Russians, she felt herself a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. Every Russian keenly felt this oneness with all Christians. 

I thought all parents were like mine, but now I know better. Not for a moment did they ever neglect to instill Gospel attitudes in me. In my organization of Friendship House and Madonna House, I used the ideas and patterns I learned from them.

 - from Fragments of My Life, quoted in Through the Year with Catherine Doherty: Grace in Every Season, page 131.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dorothy Kerin - Centenary year of her healing

My Christian formation as a teenager was very much influenced by the Church's healing ministry. It  was in this context that a priest told me about the remarkable healing of Dorothy Kerin in 1912, and made sure that I read her first two books, The Living Touch, and Fulfilling

Dorothy Kerin was born in London in 1889. She was a fragile, Anglo-Catholic girl, who at the age of 22, following years of illness principally from tubercular peritonitis, diabetes and its complications, and after two weeks in a state of near coma, and after eight minutes of clinical death, was apparently miraculously and instantaneously raised to life. She had just received Holy Communion in her sick room, when the Lord Jesus appeared to her in a vision. She wrote: 

". . . as I looked I saw One coming towards me; I thought he was coming for me, and I held out my hands towards him, but he smiled and said: ‘No, Dorothy, you are not coming yet.’ Again I passed on, and this time I seemed to go a much greater distance, until I could go no further, when I heard a voice say, ‘Dorothy’ three times. I answered ‘Yes, I am listening, who is it?’ Then a great light came all around me, and an angel took my hand and said, ‘Dorothy, your sufferings are over, get up and walk.’"

The Evening News published an account of the healing on 20th February 1912 and The Daily Chronicle published a further article on 21st February 1912, and journalists arrived in numbers. 

A further vision was given to Dorothy a few weeks later in which she was commissioned to spend her life bring others to know the healing Saviour. 

Dorothy was supported in her work by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Orthodox Archbishop of Corinth, the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Coventry and many others. By 1957 her ministry became internationally known – she travelled to Sweden, Switzerland, France, USA and Ireland, sharing simply with congregations of all kinds, and encouraging the restoration of the healing ministry as a normal part of Church life. She also established Burrswood, a healing home in Kent, where the Church's ministry and medical science support one another. 

On 18th February 1962 a service of Thanksgiving was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Dorothy's recovery, and in October of that year a larger Thanksgiving service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral. She died in 1963. 

During the Thanksgiving service in St Martin-in-the-Fields Dorothy said: 

"Unworthy and sinful as I am, today I stand here and dare to say to you, in the presence of God and of all the company of heaven, that I have seen Jesus, I have heard his voice, I have felt his touch, and I know that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Thanks be to God whose arm is not shortened, whose power is no less." (Quoted by Johanna Ernest, in Dorothy Kerin 1889-1963: Her Ministry of Healing, 1987) 

Dorothy's special gifts included her compassion for those who suffer, as well as her gritty common sense. Johanna Ernst quotes these words of Dorothy before the beginning of a healing service:  

"To those who are coming seeking the Living Touch of our Lord, through his ministry of healing, I humbly address these few words, 'Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will illumine the dark recesses of our lives, so that we can see where we have failed to respond to God's love. When, through his grace we can see where and how we have failed him, let us ask for his forgiveness, and pray that our hearts may be made ready to receive his blessing. We know not what blessing he may will to give us, but we can be abundantly sure that if we come in humility seeking only his will, we shall be given what God in his love and wisdom knows to be best for us. We are coming in faith to touch the hem of his garment - that same Jesus who wrought mighty works along the shores of Galilee two thousand years ago, the very same Jesus whose power is no less today, who always gives more than we can ask or think. Lose sight of the channels, who are nothing, and keep your eyes and mind fixed upon Him, the only Healer and Wholemake." 

"I believe that some of you are coming to receive the laying-on of hands. Before you come I would ask you to remember three things; first, there is no magic about the healing of our Lord Jesus Christ. It does not come immediately, sometimes it does not come at all in the way we hope. Therefore we must come with one prayer in our hearts and minds, and that is that God's Will may be done in us and for us. Secondly the one thing our Lord asks of us is that we should come in faith. So unless, through the grace of God, you can come, believing you are coming to touch the hem of his garment and hear him say, 'Go thy way, thy faith has made thee whole', remain in your seats and pray for those who do come in faith. Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, that you lose sight of the priests who pray for you, who are nothing, have nothing and can do nothing except to offer themselves as an empty reed for the use of the Lord. 

"There is only one healer, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his love uses his human instruments, unworthy though they are. It is HIS power, and HIS power only." 

This year - 2012 - is the centenary of Dorothy's healing, and a number of commemorative events are being held in the UK. Go HERE to read the Bishop of London's sermon at St Martin-in-the-Fields (a pdf document). Go HERE to the Burrswood Hospital website for details of other activities. Finally, HERE is a very good and detailed essay on Dorothy Kerin's ministry (also a pdf document).

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Improbable Path of Sanctity (Evelyn Underhill)

"Thy Will be done" means always being ready for God's sudden "No" over against our eager and well-meaning "Yes": his overruling of our well-considered plans for the increase of his glory and advancement of his kingdom, confronting us with his cross - and usually an unimpressive cross - at the least appropriate time. All self-willed choices and obstinacy, all feverish intensity drawn out of the work which we supposed to be work for him; so that it becomes more and more his work in us. 

The glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us. Then our handiwork will prosper; not otherwise.

A strange reversal of fortune, the frustration of obviously excellent plans, lies behind most of the triumphs of Christian history. It was by an unlikely route that Christ himself, the country carpenter, itinerant preacher, and victim of local politics, carried humanity up into God. It was in defiance alike of the probable and the suitable that St Paul was chosen, seized, transmuted, and turned to the purposes of the Will. Stephen, full of grace and power, is snatched in the splendour of his faith to God; and his Will is achieved and the Catholic Church is created by the abrupt conversion of a brilliant young scholar to a small revivalist sect. If we think of St Paul's situation at the opening of his apostolic life - the humiliating eating of his own words, the long-lived suspicion and unpopularity, and his constancy through it all - it becomes clear that only the immense pressure of God's Will, overwhelming all natural reluctances and desires, can account for it. Nor did the rest of St Paul's life, mostly spent in exhausting, dangerous and often disappointing labours, contain much food for ambition or self-love. Christian history looks glorious in retrospect; but it is made up of constant hard choices and unattractive tasks, accepted under the pressure of the Will. In the volume of the book it is written of me, that I should fulfil thy Will, O my God: I am content to do it. 

- From Evelyn Underhill's book Abba (London: Longmas, Green and Co., 1940). The complete text is online HERE (formatted with music and illustrations for the Katapi Course).  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Valley of the Shadow of Death (Florovsky)

I have already given a brief introduction to the late Fr Georges Florovsky (1893-1979) HERE. What follows is Chapter 1 of his Collected Works, Vol. III: Creation and Redemption, pp. 11-18. Originally a sermon on the text,  "O ye dry bones . . . (Ezekiel 37)" it first appeared as an editorial in St Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 3-4 (1953), 4-8.

A GLORIOUS VISION was granted to the Prophet. By the hand of the Lord the prophet Ezekiel was taken to the valley of death, a valley of despair and desolation. There was nothing alive there. There was nothing but dry bones, and very dry they were indeed. This was all that had been left of those who were once living. Life was gone. And a question was put to the Prophet: “Can these dry bones live again? Can life come back once more?” The human answer to this question would have been obviously, no. Life never comes back. What is once dead, is dead for ever. Life cannot come out of dust and ashes. “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again” (2 Sam. 14:14). Death is an ultimate ending, a complete frustration of human hopes and prospects. Death comes from sin, from the original Fall. It was not divinely instituted. Human death did not belong to the Divine order of creation. It was not normal or natural for man to die. It was an abnormal estrangement from God, who is man’s Maker and Master - even physical death; i.e. the separation of soul and body. Man’s mortality is the stigma or “the wages” of sin (Rom. 6:23).

Many Christians today have lost this Biblical conception of death and mortality and regard death rather as a release, a release of an immortal soul out of the bondage of the body. As widely spread as this conception of death may actually be, it is utterly alien to the Scriptures. In fact, it is a Greek, a gentile conception. Death is not a release, it is a catastrophe. “Death is a mystery indeed: for the soul is by violence severed from the body, is separated from the natural connection and composition, by the Divine will. O marvel. Why have we been given over unto corruption, and why have we been wedded unto death?” (St. John of Damascus in the “Burial office”). A dead man is no man any more. For man is not a bodiless spirit. Body and soul belong together, and their separation is a decomposition of the human being. A discarnate soul is but a ghost. A soulless body is but a corpse. “For in death there is no remembrance of Thee, in the grave who shall give Thee thanks” (Ps. 6:5). Or again: “Wilt Thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise Thee? shall Thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or Thy faithfulness in destruction? shall Thy wonders be known in the dark? and Thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness” (Ps. 88:10-12). And the Psalmist was perfectly sure: “and they are cut off from Thy hand” (v. 5). Death is hopeless. And thus the only reasonable answer could be given, from the human point of view, to the quest about the dry bones: No, the dry bones will never live again. 

But the Divine reply was very different from that. And it was not just an answer in words, but a mighty deed of God. And even the Word of God is creative: “for He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:9). And now God speaks again and acts. He sends His Spirit and renews the face of the earth (Ps. 104:30). The Spirit of God is the Giver of Life. And the Prophet could witness a marvelous restoration. By the power of God the dry bones were brought again together, and linked, and shaped, and covered over again with a living flesh, and the breath of life came back into the bodies. And they stood up again, in full strength, “an exceedingly great congregation.” Life came back, death was overcome. 

The explanation of this vision goes along with the vision itself. Those bones were the house of Israel, the chosen People of God. She was dead, by her sins and apostasy, and has fallen into the ditch which she made herself, was defeated and rejected, lost her glory, and freedom, and strength. Israel, the People of Divine Love and adoption, the obstinate, rebellious and stiffnecked people, and yet still the Chosen People . . . And God brings her out of the valley of the shadow of death back to the green pastures, out of the snare of death, of many waters, of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay. 

The prophecy has been accomplished. The promised deliverance came one day. The promised Deliverer, or Redeemer, the Messiah, came in the due time, and His name was Jesus: “for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). He was “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” 

And then something incredible and paradoxical happened. He was not recognized or “received” by His people, was rejected and reviled, was condemned and put to death, as a false prophet, even as a liar or “deceiver.” For the fleshly conception of the deliverance held by the people was very different from that which was in God’s own design. Instead of a mighty earthly Prince expected by the Jews, Jesus of Nazareth came, “meek and lowly in heart.” The King of Heaven, the King of Kings Himself, came down, the King of Glory, yet under the form of a Servant. And not to dominate, but to serve all those “that labor and are heavy laden,” and to give them rest. Instead of a charter of political freedom and independence, He brought to His people, and to all men indeed, a charter of Salvation, the Gospel of Eternal Life. Instead of political liberation He brought freedom from sin and death, the forgiveness of sins and Life Everlasting. He came unto His own and was not “received.” He was put to death, to shameful death, and “was numbered with the transgressors.” Life put to death, Life Divine sentenced to death by men-this is the mystery of the Crucifixion. 

Once more God has acted. “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain; Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it” (Acts 2:23-24, the words of St. Peter). Once more Life came out of the grave. Christ is risen, He came forth out of His grave, as a Bridegroom out of his chamber. And with Him the whole human race, all men indeed, was raised. He is the first fruits of them that slept, and all are to follow Him in their own order (I Cor. 15:20, 23). “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21). 

The prophecy of Ezekiel is read in the Orthodox Church at Matins on Great Saturday, at that glorious office at which believers are invited to keep a watch at the grave of the Lord, at that Sacred and Holy Grave out of which Life sprung abundantly for all creation. In the beautiful hymns and anthems, appointed for the day, the “encomia” - one of the most precious creations of devotional poetry - this tremendous mystery is depicted and adored: Life laid down in the grave, Life shining forth out of the grave. “For lo, He who dwelleth on high is numbered among the dead and is lodged in the narrow grave” (The Canon, Ode 8, Irmos). The faithful are called to contemplate and to adore this mystery of the Life-bearing and Life-bringing tomb. 

And yet, the old prophecy is still a prophecy, or rather both a prophecy and a witness. Life came forth from the grave, but the fulness of life is still to come. The human race, even the redeemed, even the Church itself, are still in the valley of the shadow of death. 

The house of the New Israel of God is again very much like dry bones. There is so little true life in all of us. The historical path of man is still tragic and insecure. All of us have been, in recent years, driven back into the valley of death. Every one, who had to walk on the ruins of once flourishing cities, realizes the terrible power of death and destruction. Man is still spreading death and desolation. One may expect even worse things to come. For the root of death is sin. No wonder that there is, in many and diverse quarters, a growing understanding of the seriousness of sin. The old saying of St. Augustine finds anew echoes in the human soul: Nondum considerasti quanti ponderis sit peccatum, “you never understand of what weight is sin.” The power of death is broken indeed. Christ is risen indeed. “The Prince of Life, who died, reigns immortal.” The spirit of God, the Comforter, the Giver of Life, has been sent upon the earth to seal the victory of Christ, and abides in the Church, since Pentecost. The gift of life, of the true life, has been given to men, and is being given to them constantly, and abundantly, and increasingly. It is given, but not always readily “received.” For in order to be truly quickened one has to overcome one’s fleshly desires, “to put aside all worldly cares,” pride and prejudice, hatred and selfishness, and self-complacency, and even to renounce one’s self. Otherwise one would quench the Spirit. God knocks perpetually at the gate of human hearts, but it is man himself who can unlock them. 

God never breaks in by violence. He respects, in the phrase of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, “the ancient law of human freedom,” once chartered by Himself. Surely, without Him, Without Christ, man can do nothing. Yet, there is one thing that can be done only by man - it is to respond to the Divine call and to “receive” Christ. And this so many fail to do. We are living in a grim and nervous age. The sense of historical security has been lost long ago. It seems that our traditional civilization may collapse altogether and fall to pieces. The sense of direction is also confused. There is no way out of this predicament and impasse unless a radical change takes place. Unless . . . In the Christian language it reads - unless we repent, unless we ask for a gift of repentance . . . Life is given abundantly to all men, and yet we are still dead. “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye” (Ezekiel 18:30-32).

There are two ways. “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil . . . I call heaven and earth to record this day against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life (Deuter. 30:15, 19). 

Let us choose life... First, we have to dedicate all our life to God, and to “receive” or accept Him as our only Lord and Master, and this not only in the spirit of formal obedience, but in the spirit of love. For He is more than our Lord, He is our Father. To love Him means also to serve Him, to make His purpose our own, to share His designs and aims. “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15). Our Lord left to us His own work to carry on and to accomplish. We have to enter into the very spirit of His redeeming work. And we are given power to do this. We are given power to be the sons of God. Even the Prodigal son was not allowed to lose his privilege of birth and to be counted among the hirelings. And even more, we are members of Christ, in the Church, which is His Body. His life is indwelt unto us by the Holy Spirit. 

Thus, secondly, we have to draw closer together and search in all our life for that unity which was in the mind of our Blessed Lord on His last day, before the Passion and the Cross: that all may be one - in faith and love, one-in Him. 

The world is utterly divided still. There is too much strife and division even among those who claim to be of Christ. The peace among nations and above all the unity among Christians, this is the common bound duty, this is the most urgent task of the day. And surely the ultimate destiny of man is decided not on the battlefields, nor by the deliberations of the clever men. The destiny of man is decided in human hearts. Will they be locked up even at the knocking of the Heavenly Father? Or will man succeed in unlocking them in response to the call of Divine Love? 

Even in our gloomy days there are signs of hope. There is not only “darkness at noon,” but also lights in the night. There is a growing search for unity. But true unity is only found in the Truth, in the fulness of Truth. “Make schisms to cease in the Church. Quench the ragings of the nations. Speedily destroy, by the might of the Holy Spirit, all uprisings of heresies” (The Liturgy of St. Basil). Life is given abundantly. 

We have to watch - not to miss the day of our visitation, as the Israel of old had missed hers. “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matt. 23:37). Let us choose life, in the knowledge of the Father and His only Son, our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And then the glory of the Cross and Resurrection will be revealed in our own lives. And the glorious prophecy of old will once more come true. “Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel . . . Then shall you know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord” (Ezekiel, 37:12, 14).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An Evelyn Underhill Discovery!

Regular readers of the blog know that every now and then I post something from the writings of Evelyn Underhill, that wonderful 20th century Anglican spiritual director. Indeed, since my teens I have been nourished by the collection made shortly after her death, An Anthology of the Love of God. Each chapter of this collection begins with a poem, many of which come from Immanence, published by Underhill in 1912. Today a friend drew my attention to the fact that Immamence is available FREE for downloading from the internet. Here, from that book, is a particularly moving burst of praise to the Lord: 


Once in an Abbey-church, the whiles we prayed 
All silent at the lifting of the Host, 
A little bird through some high window strayed ; 
And to and fro 
Like a wee angel lost 
That on a sudden finds its heaven below, 
It went the morning long. 
And made our Eucharist more glad with song. 

It sang, it sang ! and as the quiet priest 
Far off about the lighted altar moved, 
The awful substance of the mystic feast 
All hushed before, 
It, like a thing that loved 
Yet loved in liberty, would plunge and soar 
Beneath the vault in play 
And thence toss down the oblation of its lay. 

The walls that went our sanctuary around 
Did, as of old, to that sweet summons yield. 
New scents and sounds within our gates were found ; 
The cry of kine. 
The fragrance of the field, 
All woodland whispers, hastened to the shrine : 
The country side was come 
Eager and joyful, to its spirit's home. 

Far-stretched I saw the cornfield and the plough, 
The scudding cloud, the cleanly-running brook, 
The humble, kindly turf, the tossing bough 
That all their light 
From Love's own furnace took — 
This altar, where one angel brownly bright 
Proclaimed the sylvan creed. 
And sang the Benedictus of the mead. 

All earth was lifted to communion then. 
All lovely life was there to meet its King ; 
Ah, not the little arid souls of men 
But sun and wind 
And all desirous thing 
The ground of their beseeching here did find ; 
All with one self-same bread. 
And all by one eternal priest, were fed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fragmentation . . . more from Evelyn Underhill

Most of our conflicts and difficulties come from trying to deal with the spiritual and practical aspects of our life separately instead of realizing them as parts of one whole. If our practical life is centered on our own interests, cluttered up by possessions, distracted by ambitions, passions, wants and worries, beset by a sense of our own rights and importance, or anxieties for our own future, or longings for our own success, we need not expect that our spiritual life will be a contrast to all this. The soul's house is not built on such a convenient plan; there are few soundproof partitions in it. Only when the conviction - not merely the idea - that the demand of the Spirit, however inconvenient, rules the whole of it, will those objectionable noises die down which have a way of penetrating into the nicely furnished little oratory and drowning all the quieter voices by their din. 

- The Spiritual Life, 1937, p.33-34

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Now, THIS will inspire you . . .

I am so glad to have heard Father Philip North at Walsingham a few years ago. Sometimes it seems as if there are no more Anglo-Catholic evangelists. I mean "fair-dinkum" ones, as we say in Australia. Well, listening to Father North preach for the pilgrims dispelled that myth! He is now Team Rector of the Parish of Old St Pancras in north London, and in a short time under his leadership there has been a new response to the proclamation of the Gospel, and considerable church growth

The following article in this month's New Directions (the Forward in Faith magazine) is more or less "Vintage Father North" - a sermon he preached at the Pentecost Vigil Mass in St Michael's Camden Town (in the parish of Old St Pancras), organised by the group Fidelium

Go HERE and then to page 6 of New Directions to read the rest of what Fr North said.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Today's Gospel: Work, Renewal, Rest & Compassion

“Debriefing” is the modern word for it. Having been sent out to perform a task we report back to the boss, the team leader, or the group itself, about how things have gone. We share our highs and lows, and learn from the experiences of each other. In today’s Gospel (Mark 6:30-34) the Twelve have returned from their mission to the towns and villages of Galilee, and they gather with Jesus to talk about their experiences.


Last Sunday we saw that Jesus had sent them out with very little in the way of resources - no food, no luggage and no money - just a staff, their sandals and the clothes they were wearing, to preach the Gospel and heal the sick. Now, you and I believe in mission and evangelism. And we support it. But imagine going somewhere today without even a credit card, mobile phone, the food we prefer, or a change of clothing! In all honesty, could we make that kind of response to Jesus? 

And yet, I have met people from different Christian traditions who have done just that, and I have been inspired by them. I have also read the stories of men and women of different cultures down through the centuries, who have made the most outrageous sacrifices - and suffered enormous misunderstanding from family and friends - in order to say “yes” to the Lord’s call to serve him. Like St Paul, they might have finished up “poor”, but along the way they made many rich (2 Corinthians 6:10)

Given how little of the faith the disciples had grasped at this time, the really surprising thing is that they did what Jesus said to do and then returned! This is where today’s Gospel begins. It is here, in fact, that St Mark calls the Twelve “apostles” for the first time. 

In the New Testament an “apostolos” is “one who is sent out” or commissioned by Jesus to act on his behalf - with the authority of sacrificial love and servant-leadership - to proclaim the Gospel, to heal broken, wounded and suffering lives, and to be foundational in the ministry of his new community of love, the Church. The ministry of the apostles enables our lives and parishes to be anchored in Jesus. 

That’s why Jesus said to the Twelve: “he who receives you receives me” (Matthew 10:40). He also said, “as the Father sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21), and shared with them his anointing by the Holy Spirit. That’s why the first history of the Church is called “The Acts of the Apostles.” (It might just as well have been called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”.) We know that the ministry Jesus gave these men “will continue to the end of time, since the Gospel they handed on is the lasting source of all life for the Church . . . the apostles took care to appoint successors.” (Vatican II Lumen Gentium 20; cf. Matthew 28:20) . . . and “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church. . .” (Vatican II Lumen Gentium 20) 

One aspect of this is the way the catholic “family of churches” insists on continuing “in the apostles’ . . . fellowship” (Acts 2:42), not least through the sacrament of ordination.


Jesus heard the report of the first apostles and then said to them, “Come away to a lonely (i.e. “deserted”) place and rest a while.” 

We all need that, don’t we? Little bits of time away from the pressures and demands of everyday life – and even ministry - are important if we are to restore and replenish our reserves, spiritually, psychologically, and physically. We know that Jesus frequently took time away for rest and renewal. Sometimes he got up earlier in the morning than anyone else just to be with the Father, as the old hymn says, “in the silence of eternity, interpreted by love.” The Gospels give us glimpses of his prayer life. How can we survive without following his example? 

Yet, it’s not prayer alone. Jesus knew it was important for the apostles to rest and regain the energy they needed to prevent their lives and ministries growing stale. 

In an age which values above all else “effectiveness”, “performance” and “productivity” (with the emphasis much more on doing than on being), we can so easily become the kind of compulsive activists who forget the original purpose of our sphere of work. Don’t tell me that doesn’t happen in the Church! So we need to take on board the principle in today’s Gospel and hear Jesus challenging us “to rest awhile.” Without regular times of renewal and refreshing we are in danger of collapsing on the inside. When this happens we are not much use to Jesus or those to whom we are sent. So, we should obviously find a little time each day to be alone in nourishing prayer, (for clergy, in addition to the Daily Office); but we should also learn to establish for ourselves an underlying rhythm of work, renewal and rest. 


However, the irony for those who would make “getting away from it all” the only absolute in today’s Gospel is that the need to do so on that particular occasion was well and truly trumped by the compassion that surged in the heart of Jesus. When he and the apostles arrived at the “deserted place” for their rest, they found a large crowd waiting for them – five thousand men plus the women and children (Mark 6:34). Can’t you imagine how weary they felt just looking at the expectant crowd! 

And yet, when Jesus “went ashore . . . [and] saw a great throng . . . he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

“Compassion” literally means “with passion, empathy, mercy, pity.” Not just feeling sorry, but being inwardly driven to help. So, exhausted as he was on this occasion, Jesus proceeded to teach the people, and he fed them. 

Most clergy I know really do love their people. But I must say that some inadvertently create the opposite impression when the pew sheet, the church notice board, the web site and the recorded message on the telephone all make such a big deal about what day is “the Vicar’s day off.” In my recent travels I saw a pew sheet where that was the first and most prominent announcement – and the only one in bold type. How odd! In spite of the fact that the priest of that parish really is kind and compassionate, he fell into one of the traps of the modern bureaucratised, “professional” Church. I’ve already said how important it is to have a rhythm of work, renewal and rest. If we live in a vicarage next to the church this might mean clearing off for the whole day once a week, using technology creatively for those who make contact to feel loved and welcomed . . . NOT the kind of pompous message a priest friend of mine recorded on his voice mail which momentarily made even me feel guilty for ringing on that particular day! 

The other thing, of course, is that if we are like Jesus there will be times when God has us just in the right place at the right time on our “day off” to respond with real compassion to someone in need. Having the kind of empathy that drives us to help when, strictly speaking, we are not “on duty” or even dressed in black, is a little sign to ourselves that we are still real Christians following Jesus, and not just “professional clergy”!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The words of a priest at the funeral of his son

To outlive one's own child - whatever the circumstances - is a terrible thing, however strong or deep we think our faith might be. A month ago American friends asked for prayer to be offered for Fr Al Kimel and his wife and family following the suicide of son, Aaron. A few days later someone pointed me to the funeral homily on Scribd, but I thought better of sharing it on this blog at that time out of respect for the Kimels. However, it is such a helpful piece, and has since been posted in various parts of the Internet, that I have decided to share it with you today. Read it carefully and prayerfully, and keep Aaron and his family in your prayers. 

delivered by Father Alvin F. Kimel, Jr. 22 June 2012 

+ In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 


Not once have I ever entertained the possibility that I would ever find myself in this moment, preaching at the funeral of one of my children. 

I stand here today not to offer a eulogy for my son Aaron. There will be other opportunities for such eulogies, as we each seek to find healing for our loss and to understand the tragic decision of Aaron to end his life. 

My purpose, rather, is to offer an argument. Aaron was brilliant. He loved a good argument, and he usually won. Aaron and I did not often speak about God. At some point in high school he moved into a scientific materialism from which he would not be moved. He was not a militant atheist, as he acknowledged that it was possible, however unlikely, that God might exist; but he simply could not, would not, embrace a Christian worldview. Yet for the sake of family, he always said grace with us at dinnertime. 

I am not a philosopher. There is no argument I can offer that Aaron could not demolish in five seconds flat. I stand before you as a priest of the Church for over thirty years. But most importantly I stand before you as a bereaved father, who has been utterly devastated by the death of his beloved son.

Aaron’s death has been a traumatic - and clarifying - event for me. I see reality more clearly than I have ever seen it before. I stand before you, therefore, either as a madman … or a prophet of God Almighty. I cannot judge. You must be my judge. God will most certainly be my judge. 


Aaron did not believe in God. He did not believe in transcendent reality. He did not believe in a life beyond the grave. Life has no ultimate meaning or significance. After death there is only nothing. 

In Aaron’s room I found my old copy of the short stories of Ernest Hemingway. I do not know when he borrowed it. Perhaps he read the story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” In this story we read the prayer of nihilism: 

Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy 
will be nada in nada as it is in nada. 
Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada 
as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but 
deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of 
nothing, nothing is with thee. 

It is a relentlessly bleak, hopeless view. Despair is its only conclusion. 

Aaron was a man who lived in profound interior pain. He had come to the conclusion that nothing in this world, neither medicine nor psychiatry nor career nor even the love of his family could deliver him from the despair and futility that had possessed and paralyzed him. And so he made what seemed, to him, to be the logical choice. 

A logical choice … if, and only if, Aaron’s worldview is true. If Aaron is right, then he has indeed found relief from his suffering, relief in nothingness, relief in nada, nada, nada. We who have been left behind must now suffer the repercussions of Aaron’s decision, but he at least he is at peace … if Aaron is right … 


But there is an alternative. Consider the possibility that there really is a divine Creator, a transcendent deity of infinite love who has brought the world into being from out of nothing. Consider the possibility that this Creator has made human beings in his image in such a way that we can only find our supreme happiness in communion with him. Consider the possibility that this God has actually entered into his creation, taking upon himself the limitations of humanity, including even suffering and death, precisely to restore us to himself and incorporate us into his divine life. Consider the possibility that for us this God died a cruel and horrific death on Calvary and rose to indestructible life on Easter morning, destroying the power of death once and for all and opening history to the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, a future where “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” 

God is Love, for he is eternally the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The world springs from love and will be consummated in love. In the words of St Isaac the Syrian: 

“In love did God bring the world into existence; in love does he guide it during its temporal existence; in love is he going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of him who has performed all these things.” 

It may all sound too good to be true. It may all sound like a an old wives’ tale. But it meets Aaron’s objections head on. Life is not nothingness. Life is not absurd. God is good and wills only our good. God is love and his love will triumph. There is thus genuine hope for liberation, healing, transformation, rebirth, both in this world and in the coming kingdom. 

This is the Christian faith in which Aaron was raised yet which he eventually found to be unpersuasive. The empiricist worldview which dominates our culture increasingly renders the Christian worldview implausible, and the whole world consequently suffers from the despair of nihilism. 

I cannot, will not acquiesce to Aaron’s agnosticism and its resignation to despair. I know something of the darkness that bound Aaron’s heart; but this tragedy has quickened my faith, and I pray that it will do so for you also. 

One of my favorite books in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is the Silver Chair. The children, along with the marsh-wiggle Puddleglum are captured by the Green Lady and taken into her underworld domain. She casts a spell upon them and attempts to persuade them that this dreary underworld is the real world, that everything that they remember about Narnia and the true world is but a dream. But Puddleglum stands fast; he refuses to disbelieve: 

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.” 

The Christian vision of reality is so much more real, more beautiful, more enchanting, and profoundly more true than any vision of reality offered by modern culture and the scientific worldview. 

And so here is my first response to my son: 

“Aaron, I do not know if you had retained your faith in Christ whether your pain would have been more bearable, but it might have given you grounds for hope, for a supernatural hope that the world cannot give.” 


But what hope does my son now have? He is dead. He died an unbeliever. He died a suicide. This is the hard, terrible truth. Aaron would not want us to minimize the harshness of any of this. He knew Christine and I would find this very, very hard. In the old days, some preachers would have declared him damned. He certainly would not have been granted a church burial. Today we know more about depression and mental illness. We know how depression constrains and limits our existential freedom. Aaron did not kill himself with blasphemies on his lips. His suicide was not the culmination of a wicked life. It was an escape from a world that could not heal the sickness of his mind and bring relief from intolerable suffering. Aaron jumped to his death because he had lost all hope, because despair had possessed his being. This I believe to be true. And so I know that God will be merciful. 

But even so, I wish to say something more. Not only will the eternal Father be merciful to my Aaron; but he will most assuredly heal his heart, deliver him from the bonds of darkness, and raise him into glorified life with Jesus Christ the eternal Son, with the Blessed Virgin Mary and with all the saints. Aaron will know the joy and bliss of the kingdom of God. 

* * * * * * * * * *

Fr Kimel was a priest in the Episcopal (i.e. USA Anglican) Church for twenty-five years. A loved pastor and distinguished theologian, articles of his have been published in the Anglican Theological Review, Sewanee Theological Review, Interpretation, Scottish Journal of Theology, Worship, Faith & Philosophy, Pro Ecclesia, and First Things. He has also edited two books: Speaking the Christian God and This is My Name Forever. He began his Pontifications Blog in March 2004 as a way to reflect on the meaning of the Church and to invite others to share in these reflections. (This blog, though no longer active, continues to be a valuable resource of essays and comments.) In June 2005 Fr Kimel entered into full communion with the (Roman) Catholic Church, becoming a priest the following year. On Pentecost Sunday, 2011, he was ordained into the Orthodox Church on Pentecost Sunday 2011 by Bishop Jerome of the Russian Church Abroad, for the Western Rite.

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's out with the old as Christian values fall away

Dr John Dickson, author, historian and the founding director of the Centre for Public Christianity in Sydney, wrote this article on the implications for society's care of the elderly of the movement away from Christian believing. A slightly abbreviated version of the article appeared in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald HERE.

Given the Judeo-Christian origins of our long-held tradition of caring for the frail, recent census data indicating the demise of Christianity and the aging of Australia’s population could herald a perfect social storm.

The 2011 census makes clear that Christian affiliation is diminishing, falling 7% over the last decade to 61%. The slack has been picked up by the ‘Nones’, those claiming ‘no religion’, with nearly 5 million of us, or 22.3%, turning our backs on God (or, at least, on His registered brands). That’s up 7% since 2001.

At the same time, we’re getting older. The median age rose by two years in the last decade from 35 to 37. That might not sound like much but it indicates a significant increase in the number of elderly people in our community. HammondCare, a leader in aged-care and dementia services, notes that by 2050 1 in 20 Australians will be 85+. Coupled with this is an expected increase in the number of us with dementia, from 269,000 to 1 million.

And here’s the problem. For nearly 2000 years, the biblical claim that all human beings are made in the ‘image of God’, and so profoundly and inherently valuable, has called on those who believe the idea to treat men and women as ‘sacred’, regardless of capacities or contributions to society. Of course, the secularist will point to all the evils of Christendom. But these just show that Christians haven’t been Christian enough. They don’t obscure the fact that it was the Judeo-Christian view of the human being that gave the West its hospitals, charities and the language of the ‘rights’ of the weak. As yet, there is no alternative narrative that can guarantee the inherent dignity of all, regardless of capacities.

Of course, most of us love our Grans. We don’t need religion to tell us to look after them. But as more and more Australians move into high-care facilities and dementia units, sometimes at a great distance from family members, society will need a solid intellectual ground for increasing contributions to those who can no longer give back.

Ancient Greece and Rome, the cultures against which Christianity first competed, had little by way of philosophical reasoning that could guarantee the inherent worth of those lacking rational capacity or social utility. So infanticide was common and social welfare for the aged and dying was virtually non-existent.

Christianity changed all of that. It inherited from the Jews a theology of human dignity and a program of social welfare, and added the thought that Christ had died for the world, even for the lowly and neglected. Compassion was due to all, especially to the commonly overlooked. And so was born the tradition of ‘charity’ we now take for granted.

Educated Greeks and Romans criticized Christianity for this. To them it was a religion for the poor and useless. 

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven . . .

This article was written three years ago by Bishop Chandler Holder Jones, Rector of St Barnabas, Dunwoody, Georgia, USA. The original is HERE.

The honour and veneration of the Saints as our elder brothers and sisters in the communion which is the family of God and the temple of the Holy Ghost are a key and indispensable element in proper orthodox Christian worship . . . 

The liturgy is in fact a participation in the Communion of Saints, as the Book of Common Prayer so beautifully and explicitly declares: ‘therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name...’ The Church is totus Christus, the whole Christ, both Head and Body, and in her the Saints in glory participate with us militant on earth in the one perfect and eternal Liturgy of the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. All the saints and angels gather round the heavenly throne and the heavenly altar and worship God and the Lamb - the mystery of the worship of heaven, the action of the eternal heavenly liturgy, is made present and activated on earth in the Eucharist. 

We do on earth in the Holy Communion what the saints and angels do forever in heaven. 

Thus the Fathers of the Church describe the Eucharist as ‘heaven on earth’ and the Church as an ‘earthly heaven.’ The veil between heaven and earth is pulled back in the celebration of the Eucharist and we are caused by grace, united in the risen and ascended Lord, to be joined at the altar with our own great-great grandfathers and great- great grandchildren in the mystical communion of Christ’s Body, the Church triumphant, expectant and militant. 

All Christians living and dead are presented to the Father anew through Christ the high priest in every Eucharist. Our Lord’s eternal priesthood prevails once more, under sensible signs on earth, for all who have ever lived, past, present and future. All generations of God’s people from the beginning of the human race to its consummation at the end of time are mystically and supernaturally present at the altar, united to the Lord Jesus Christ, who pleads and exhibits the one Sacrifice for our sake. 

Our honour of the Communion of Saints, our hymns, prayers and devotions in celebration of God’s Friends above, reminds us of our own eschatological destiny in Christ and the victory we already share with the Saints in the crucified and risen Jesus, the Lord of all creation. ‘Until his coming again:’ the Eucharist is essentially an eschatological event in which we pass through death and judgement and enter once again, in time and space but beyond them, into the glory of the Risen Christ - to live and reign with him and to worship the Holy Trinity in him, through him and by him . . . every Eucharist is a literal coming again, a true Advent of the Saviour to us here and now. The second coming occurs over and over again in the Mystery of the Altar. In the Eucharist we ascend with Christ, that where he is we might also ascend and reign with him in glory. In the holy Sacrament “our life is hid with Christ in God” and we are made continually to dwell in the heavens with him. We never pray alone; we are not saved alone, but only as members of Christ. 

. . . In essence, the Eucharist is the Life of the Holy Trinity, as we go to the Father, through this life and the life of the world to come who are, like us, made partakers of the divine nature. The Saints pray with us and for us in the liturgy of the Church. 

. . . The majority of the world’s Christians invoke and commemorate the Communion of Saints in public worship . . .  An authentic Church is one that reverences Christ’s beloved, the Saints, as exemplars of the Christian life and heavenly intercessors and relatives. Anglicanism has historically held the Saints in the highest esteem, and has offered her liturgy in honour of their holy memory, and that hallmark of our patristic Catholicism, a biblical, sombre, restrained and dignified treatment of the Saints, has been an irreplaceable treasure shared in common with the other Apostolic Churches.