Sunday, February 28, 2010

Monday in the Second Week of Lent

FIRST READING (Daniel 9:4b - 10)
"O Lord, the great and terrible God, who keepest covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from thy commandments and ordinances; we have not listened to thy servants the prophets, who spoke in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

"To thee, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us confusion of face, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those that are near and those that are far away, in all the lands to which thou hast driven them, because of the treachery which they have committed against thee.

"To us, O Lord, belongs confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.

"To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness; because we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets."

GOSPEL READING (Luke 6:36-38)
At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

With God all things are possible
(Word of Life Community)

How hard it is to love someone . . .
(From a priest of St. Michael's Romanian Orthodox Christian Church)

Forgive to give
(Presentation Ministries)

In today's gospel reading, Jesus provides us a few simple instructions. He asks us to not judge or condemn. He also instructs us to give and forgive. We are reminded that we cannot receive without first giving of ourselves. St. Ignatius reminds us this in his prayer for generosity:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

Let us be challenged this Lenten season to truly try giving without counting the costs or expecting something in return. To be the first to forgive. Jesus tells us that only the measure we give will be what we receive.
Sarah Signorino

Grant we beseech thee, merciful Lord,
to thy faithful people pardon and peace,
that they may be cleansed from all their sins,
serve thee with a quiet mind,
and gladly forgive one another.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end. Amen.

[I seldom approve of extending the themes in the Church's ancient collects, but the addition of the line "and gladly forgive one another" (as suggested in the NZ Prayer Book) would seem to perfect this wonderful prayer in the light of today's Gospel reading.]

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Second Sunday of Lent

FIRST READING (Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18)
In those days: God brought Abram outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be."

And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.

And he said to him, "I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and behold, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."

SECOND READING (Philippians 3:17- 4:1)
Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so walk as you have an example in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in this way in the Lord, my beloved.

GOSPEL (Luke 9:28b-36)
At that time: Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep but kept awake, and they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah" - not knowing what he said.

As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

(1) Wisdom from C.S. Lewis

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another." (2 Corinthians 3: 18)

We are being transformed into his likeness "from glory to glory." That is what God is doing in us - changing us. It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know this: we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:1-2)! God is changing us, day by day, as we allow his glory to shine in us. In the light of his glory we see things differently. The sacred liturgy - the Eucharist - is our Mount Tabor, and that's why we should never stay away!

In the last sermon he gave, entitled "The Weight of Glory", C.S. Lewis considers just what it means to really see people as they shall be, reflecting the glory or shame that is to come:

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

"All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal . . . Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him the Christ . . . the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself-is truly hidden. God's glory is hidden in us and revealed when we truly worship. Seek out God's presence, for God changes us by his glory."

(2) Called to be witnesses of his glory
(Word of Life Community)

(3) The Transfiguration of Christ
(Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas & the South)


"On the far side of everything - the Last Supper, the campfire denial, the Resurrection, and the Pentecost outpouring - Peter tries in a letter to make sense of what happened on Mt. Tabor that day. Peter saw God's glory, and he knows it is for us. He says that God's divine power calls us 'to his own glory.' Through his promises we may 'become partakers of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:3-4).

"'Partakers of the divine nature.' The life that is in Christ will be in us. We will have a true oneness with Christ and thus we will have a personal transfiguration. We partake of, consume, the light and the life of Christ. We receive, not mere intellectual knowledge of God, but illumination. This participation in 'the divine nature' is not a treat squirreled away for the select few, for mystics or hobbyists of 'spiritual formation,' but God's plan for every single human life. 'The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world' (John 1:9). Participation in this light is not a lofty or esoteric path, but one of simplicity and childlike humility. It's not won by sudden, swooping supernatural experiences, but by daily, diligent self-control. Through prayer, fasting, and honouring others above self, we gradually clear away everything in us that will not catch fire.

"We are made to catch fire. We are like lumps of coal, dusty and inert, and possess little to be proud of. But we have one talent: we can burn. You could say that it is our destiny to burn. He made us that way, because he intended for his blazing light to fill us. When this happens, 'your whole body will be full of light' (Matthew 6:22).

"Where have we been? We've been up Mt. Tabor. 'And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another' (2 Corinthians 3:18)."
(Frederica Mathewes-Green, from a meditation on the Transfiguration given in 2005. The entire article is well worth reading. Go HERE.)

O God,
who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses
thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured,
in raiment white and glistening;
Mercifully grant that we,
being delivered from the disquietude of this world,
may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty,
who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost,
liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Saturday in the First Week of Lent

FIRST READING (Deuteronomy 26:16-19)
Moses spoke to the people, saying: "This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances; you shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared this day concerning the Lord that he is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his ordinances, and will obey his voice; and the Lord has declared this day concerning you that you are a people for his own possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, that he will set you high above all nations that he has made, in praise and in fame and in honour, and that you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he has spoken."

GOSPEL (Matthew 5:43-48)
"You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

"For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

"And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

The Sunday sermon was on "Forgive Your Enemies." The priest asked, "How many of you have forgiven your enemies?" About half the congregation held up their hands. He asked again, and about 80% put up their hands. The third time round, all hands were raised except for one elderly lady.

"Mrs Jones, I'm surprised at you. Why aren't you willing to forgive your enemies?"

"I don't have any" she responded.

"Are you sure, Mrs Jones? Said the priest. I find that very hard to believe! Please come to the front and explain to everyone how it is possible not to have an enemy in the world."

The little old lady tottered down the aisle, and said: "It's easy, Father. I'm ninety-three years old. I've outlived every single one of them!"

Hearts on fire with the Love of God
(Word of Life Community)

Being Godly is common sense
(Living Space)

I remember when I was a little girl in Russia during Holy Week every member of my family - father, mother, and all the servants lined up and, beginning with father, bowed low before one another and said to each, "Forgive me for any hurt that I might have inflicted on you." And the answer from the other was, "May the Lord forgive you as I forgive you. Amen." So everyone asked forgiveness from one another, because without forgiveness, which is the greatest sign of love, how can one receive the God of love?

We hurt people, unwillingly and even unwittingly, by the weakness of our nature, so we need forgiveness from our brothers and sisters, and we need to forgive them as well. We cannot enter Holy Week unless we forgive totally, uncompromisingly, and completely. For before our eyes will soon be Jesus Christ himself, who will cry out from the height of the cross, "Father, forgive them."

Since we are baptized into the death and life of Jesus Christ, we should not allow the night to fall on our anger. We should beg forgiveness and forgive every day. Let us pray that we may forgive, because no one forgives these days, nationally and internationally speaking, and perhaps also personally. That is why we have the mess that we have.
Catherine Doherty in the Madonna House Staff Letter #59 (Reproduced in Grace in Every Season, page 97)

Lord, thou hast prepared a table for me
against them that trouble me.
Let that holy Sacrament of the Eucharist
be to me a defence and shield,
a nourishment and medicine, life and health,
a means of sanctification and spiritual growth;
that I, receiving the Body of my dearest Lord,
may be one with his mystical body,
and of the same Spirit,
united with indissoluble bonds of a strong faith,
and a holy hope,
and a never-failing charity,
that from this veil I may pass into the visions of eternal charity,
from eating thy Body to beholding thy face
in the glories of thy everlasting kingdom,
O blessed and eternal Jesus. Amen.
Bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Friday in the First Week of Lent

FIRST READING (Ezekiel 18:21-28)

Thus says the Lord: "If a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.

"Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

GOSPEL (Matthew 5:20-26)
Jesus said to his disciples, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire.

"So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny."

If, like me, you are around 60 years of age and have been a practising Christian for most of your life, you will have listened to at least 2,500 sermons. What experts we should be in things concerning the Christian Faith! For you as well as for me, however, just a few of those sermons remain in our minds and hearts as if we heard them yesterday. One such sermon bowled me over when I was just 15. It gave shape to my lifelong meditation on so many aspects of God's revelation. The preacher (a retired missionary from China) spoke at the youth fellowship one Sunday night and then preached in church - electrifyingly - about "the scarlet cord" which runs through Scripture, binding it together - the Blood of Jesus which atones for our sins and brings us new life, and in the light of which we should read the Old Testament. Imagine my surprise when recently browsing through Alice Linsley's blog Just Genesis (one of the most worthwhile blogs there is, packed full of orthodox scholarship which is at the same time challenging and devotional) and finding - as if it were a summary of sermon notes made on that Sunday back in 1967 - Alice's post The Scarlet Cord Woven Through the Bible. It is a fitting meditation for this Lenten Friday. I encourage you to go there, and - if you have time - to follow the links in the post, as well.

Be reconciled
(Word of Life Community)

Patience and Impatience
(Mother Basilea Schlink)

To forgive does not mean to forget what has happened, but to shoulder the weight of another person's frailty or even another person's evil. St. Paul says, "Learn to carry one another's burdens." These burdens are often the failure of each of us to be worthy of our calling - our incapacity to love one another, to accept one another, to serve one another, to help one another on the way that leads to God. Let each of us pass a judgement on our whole soul, on our whole life, judge ourselves honestly, and ask forgiveness not only from God but from our neighbor, which is sometimes much harder than asking forgiveness from God.

We are all frail. We are all in need of support. Do we give this support to one another? Or do we choose those whom we want to support because we like them, because supporting them is a joy, because supporting them means that they also respond to us by gratitude, by friendship? Let us avoid seeking reasons not to forgive.

I remember a man who said to me, "I can forgive every person who has sinned against me, I can even love them, but I must hate the enemies of God." I thought of something which is told to us in the life of one of the saints, in which a priest was praying to God to punish those who betrayed Him by their lives if not by their words. And Christ appeared to him and said, "Never pray for the punishment or the rejection of any one. If there was only one sinner in the world, I would choose to be incarnate again, and again to die upon the cross for this only sinner."

Remember, if we do not forgive our brother, it is not only he who goes away with pain and tears in his heart, but we are wounded. If we do not forgive, we are ourselves not healed. The evil that occurred to us at the hands of another person remains with us, damaging our soul, destroying us.

Let us learn to forgive, so that others may be healed, but also that we may be healed ourselves. Come and bow down before the icon of Christ and of the Mother of God, and then turn to one another with the readiness to be forgiven and to forgive, whatever the cost to us.
(Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh from a Forgiveness Vespers sermon given in 1999)

We beseech thee O Lord,
let our hearts be graciously enlightened
by thy holy radiance,
that we may serve thee without fear
in holiness and righteousness
all the days of our life;
that so we may escape the darkness of this world,
and by thy guidance
attain the land of eternal brightness;
through thy mercy O blessed Lord,
who dost live and govern all things,
world without end. Amen.
From the Sarum Breviary of 1085

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thursday in the First Week of Lent

FIRST READING (Esther 14:1, 3-5, 12-15)
Esther the queen, seized with deathly anxiety, fled to the Lord; and she prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said:

"O my Lord, thou only art our King; help me, who am alone and have no helper but thee, for my danger is in my hand. Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family that thou, O Lord, didst take Israel out of all the nations, and our fathers from among all their ancestors, for an everlasting inheritance, and that thou didst do for them all that thou didst promise.

"Remember, O Lord; make thyself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. But save us by thy hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but thee, O Lord. Thou hast knowledge of all things."

GOSPEL (Matthew 7:7-12)
Jesus said to his disciples, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

"Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?

"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

"So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. "

Esther - an Image of the Church
(Fr Mark OSB)

The power of prayer
(Word of Life Community)

Good Psychology
(Fr. Jack Dorsel)

Lent is a powerful weapon for our unseen spiritual warfare. It is the human tendency to fight always. But its proper orientation is not against other people but against evil within us and evil in the society. God is helping us to conquer passions like hatred, avarice, jealousy, greed, lust etc through Lent. Jesus Christ went through a long fasting and immediately after that we see him saying a bold NO to the evil force who brought temptations. Till the last breath there will be temptations and spiritual warfare in the lives of all and those who make use of Lent as a spiritual weapon will be victorious. The prayers of the great Lent highlight Moses, Elijah and Jesus as the great champions of fasting. According to the scripture they observed fasting for forty days and it was these three who are seen in unusually bright light on the transfiguration mount. When the Jews under captivity in Babylon were released and were about to go back to Jerusalem around two and half millennia ago, they declared a fasting to ensure God's protection in their journey. (Ezra 8: 21&22) It is recorded in the book of Ezra that they did not ask the King to send soldiers to ensure their security so that the gentiles could not laugh at the shallow nature of their faith. In our transient journey in this planet to eternity our ultimate trust and security is to be in God who strengthens us to conquer all kinds of evil and to progress. In short, through fasting we humble ourselves and surrender fully to God who empowers us to face all challenges and sinful tendencies.
Fr Theodosius Walker

Grant to us, Lord,
we beseech thee,
the spirit to think and do
always such things as are right;
that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee,
may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wednesday in the First Week of Lent

FIRST READING (Jonah 3:1-10)
The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth.

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he cried, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?"

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.

GOSPEL (Luke 11:29-32)
When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation.

"The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

"The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here."

Paying attention to warning signs
(Word of Life Community)

Greater than Jonah
(Catholic Preaching)

The Church before the Watching World
(Tim Keller)

The story of Jonah is our story, with its details of rebellion, repentance, salvation and mission. The "sign of Jonah" tells us how those details are grounded in the person and preaching of Jesus Christ.

Of the fifteen Old Testament passages read in Orthodox practice at the vesperal Divine Liturgy of Holy Saturday, the fourth consists of the entire, brief book of Jonah. Although the book is numbered among the "Minor Prophets," it is unique: rather than offer a compilation of prophetic utterances, it recounts a spiritual pilgrimage. However we may assess its "historicity," the work is preserved in the Church's canon of Scripture because of its timeless proclamation of God's universal saving grace and love. It is a story of rebellion and redemption, of God's forgiveness and mercy extended alike to Jew and Gentile, saint and sinner, you and me.
Go HERE to continue reading this article by Fr John Breck, Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Ethics at the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris.

(Something special here from the LITERAL translation):

Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord,
that we,
having been polished by means of the Lenten observance
and nourished by thy Word,
may by this fast be consecrated with our whole heart,
and made harmonious in thy prayer.

[Praesta, quaesumus, Domine,
ut, per quadragesimalem observantiam eruditi
et tuo verbo nutriti,
sancta continentia tibi simus toto corde devoti,
et in oratione tua semper efficiamur concordes.

A bit strange in its style, no? Well, this is of new composition for the Novus Ordo. It takes some inspiration from Sermon 40, 4 of St. Pope Leo I "the Great" (+461). Erudio is "to polish, educate, instruct, teach". Rudis is an adjective for "unwrought, untilled, unformed, unused, rough, raw, wild". Someone who is rudis is "rude, unpolished, uncultivated, unskilled, awkward, clumsy, ignorant; hence (like ignarus)". People must be brought out of this state by being polished. St. Augustine (+430) wrote a work called De catechizandis rudibus. Eruditio refers to the whole culture and formation of a Catholic.

Observantia is certainly an "observance", but also "an observance of religious duties, divine worship, religion". For example, the Theodosian Code speaks of "fides Catholicae observantiae" (16, 5, 12, § 54).

Day by day our Lenten observance ought to be a polishing not a torture. Sometimes people make the mistake in the spiritual life of putting themselves on the rack. The rock tumbler is a better model than the rack. - Fr Z WDTPRS]

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tuesday in the First Week of Lent

FIRST READING (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Thus says the Lord: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it."

GOSPEL (Matthew 6:7-15)
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: "In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

"Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

Helps to understanding the Lord's Prayer (Orthodox Prayer website)

Do you believe that God's word has power to change and transform your life today? (Word of Life Community)

We can count on God's knowledge of us (Creighton University)

Fasting is one way in which the body participates in prayer. Fasting is not simply the observation of certain rigid rules and dietary restrictions. The real purpose of fasting is the renewal of prayer and of our personal relationship with God and our fellow humans. To fast and simply become ill-humoured defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. "What is the purpose of not eating meat," asks Saint Basil, "if instead you devour your brother or sister?" Through fasting, through learning to do without certain foods you take for granted, through eating more simply, we renew the participation of our bodies. The body is the messenger of the soul. The purpose of fasting is to give us freedom for prayer. Lent is a school of freedom, a season freeing us from dependence on physical power. Indeed through fasting we are able to see the beauty and wonder of the food that we eat. Fasting helps us not to take food for granted.
(Bishop Kallistos Ware, from his 1999 retreat "Sacraments of Healing")

Look down upon thy household, O Lord,
and grant that our souls,
chastened by the mortification of the flesh,
may glow in Thy sight with the desire for Thee.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
God world without end. Amen.

[This day the Church also honours St Polycarp. Go HERE to find out about him.]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Monday in the First Week of Lent

FIRST READING (Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18)
The Lord said to Moses, "Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy. "You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

"You shall not oppress your neighbour or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

"You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour. You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand forth against the life of your neighbour: I am the Lord.

"You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbour, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord."

GOSPEL (Matthew 25:31-46)
Jesus said to his disciples: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.

"Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?'

"And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

"Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

"Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?'

"Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

It is not enough to say: "I love God" . . .
(Mother Teresa)

Do you allow the love of God to rule in your heart?
(Word of Life Community)

As We Are
(Avera Health)

Christian love is the "possible impossibility" to see Christ in another person, whoever he or she is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a "good deed" or an exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself.

The parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love. Not all of us are called to work for "humanity," yet each one of us has received the gift and the grace of Christ's love. We know that all persons ultimately need this personal love-the recognition in them of their unique soul in which the beauty of the whole creation is reflected in a unique way. We also know that people are in prison and are sick and thirsty and hungry because that personal love has been denied them. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by that very gift of Christ's love. Thus, on whether or not we have accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love, shall we be judged.
(From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.)

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born
to eternal life. Amen.
St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The First Sunday of Lent

FIRST READING (Deuteronomy 26:4-10)
Moses said to the people, "The priest shall take the basket [of first fruits] from your hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall make response before the Lord your God, 'A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. Then we cried to the Lord the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.' And you shall set it down before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God."

SECOND READING (Romans 10:8-13)
Brethren: What does the Scripture say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame."

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, "every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved."

GOSPEL (Luke 4:1-13)
At that time: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry.

The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread."

And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'"

And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours."

And Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'"

And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, 'He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"

And Jesus answered him, "It is said, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"

And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time."

Satan Would Have Done Anything to Prevent Jesus from Suffering
(John Piper)

Why did Jesus go to the desert?
(Word of Life Community)

Our fasting should be focused on the Lord
(An Orthodox blog from Tennesee)

Though knowest, O Lord, my passions hidden in darkness, the sores of my soul are known to thee. Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed. If thou wilt not build the house of my soul, I labour in vain trying to build it myself.

It is true that sometimes I prepare myself to do battle with the passions when they war against me, but the evil wiles of the serpent paralyze the efforts of my soul with sensuality and I yield to them. Though no one visibly ties my hands, the invisible passions drag me away like a captive.

O Lord, enlighten the eyes of my heart, that I might rightly recognize the deceit and the malice of the passions. May thy grace shield me, that I might be able to stand firm and resist, having girded my loins with courage.

Once thou, O Lord, didst provide safe passage through the impassable sea for thy people. Thou gavest thy people who thirsted water out of a hard rock. Thou alone, according to thy grace, didst save the one who fell in with thieves. Have mercy upon me as well, for I have also fallen into the hands of thieves and, like a captive, I am bound by wicked thoughts.

No one is strong enough to heal the passionate temperament of my soul except thou, O Lord, who knowest the depths of my soul. Condescend and save me by thy kindness.
- St Ephrem the Syrian (ca. 306 - 373)

O Lord,
who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights:
give us grace to use such abstinence;
that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit,
we may ever obey thy godly motions
in righteousness, and true holiness,
to thy honour and glory:
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
ever one God, world without end.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Saturday After Ash Wednesday

FIRST READING (Isaiah 58:9-14)
Thus says the Lord: "If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

"If you turn back your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

GOSPEL (Luke 5:27-32)
Jesus went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he left everything, and rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Walking into glory
(Presentation Ministries)

Those who need a physician
(Word of Life Community)

Do we have a clear goal in life? The athletes whose clear goal is the attainment of the Olympic gold are willing to let everything else become secondary. The way they eat, sleep, study, and train are all determined by that one clear goal.

This is as true in the spiritual life as it is in the life of competitive sports. Without a clear goal, we will always be distracted and spend our energy on secondary things. “Keep your eye on the prize,” Martin Luther King said to his people. What is our prize? Is it the divine life, the eternal life, the life with and in God. Jesus proclaimed to us that goal, that heavenly prize. To Nicodemus he said: “...this is how God loved the world: he gave his Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

It is not easy to keep our eyes fixed on the eternal life, especially not in a world that keeps telling us that there are more immediate and urgent things on which to focus. There is scarcely a day that does not pull our attention away from our goal and make it look vague and cloudy. But still, we know from experience that without a clear goal our lives become fragmented into many tasks and obligations that drain us and leave us with a feeling of exhaustion and uselessness. How then do we keep our goal clear, how then do we fix our eyes on the prize? By the discipline of prayer: the discipline that helps us to bring God back again and again to the center of our life. We will always remain distracted, constantly busy with many urgent demands, but when there is a time and place set apart to return to our God who offers us eternal life, we gradually can come to realize that the many things we have to do, to say, or to think no longer distract us but are, instead, all leading us closer to our goal. Important, however, is that our goal remains clear. Prayer keeps our goal clear, and when our goal has become vague, prayer makes it clear again.
Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932 – 1996)

Assist us mercifully, O Lord,
in these our supplications:
and grant that,
like as this fast hath been ordained
for the healing of our bodies and our souls,
so we may in all godliness and lowliness observe the same.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
world without end. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Friday After Ash Wednesday

FIRST READING (Isaiah 58:1-9a)
"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. `Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?'

"Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am."

GOSPEL (Matthew 9:14-15)
The disciples of John came to Jesus, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."

Ascending Fast
(Presentation Ministries)

Hungering for God and fasting for his kingdom
(Word of Life Community)

Such exercises as fasting cannot have their proper effect unless our motives for practicing them spring from personal meditation. We have to think of what we are doing, and the reasons for our actions must spring from the depths of our freedom and be enlivened by the transforming power of Christian love. Otherwise, our self-imposed sacrifices are likely to be pretenses, symbolic gestures without real interior meaning. Sacrifices made in this formalistic spirit tend to be mere acts of external routine performed in order to exorcise interior anxiety and not for the sake of love. In that case, however, our attention will tend to fix itself upon the insignificant suffering which we have piously elected to undergo, and to exaggerate it in one way or another, either to make it seem unbearable or else to make it seem more heroic than it actually is. Sacrifices made in this fashion would be better left unmade. It would be more sincere as well as more religious to eat a full dinner in a spirit of gratitude than to make some minor sacrifice a part of it, with the feeling that one is suffering martyrdom.
Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968)

We beseech thee, O Lord,
to further with thy gracious favour
the fast, which we have here begun:
that we, who with our bodies therein do thee outward worship,
may inwardly perform the same in singleness of heart.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end. Amen.

Thursday After Ash Wednesday

FIRST READING (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)
Moses spoke to the people, saying, "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.

"But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

GOSPEL (Luke 9:22-25)
Jesus said to his disciples, "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

And he said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"

Choose Life
(Creighton Univerity)

Do you know the healing and transforming power of the Cross?
(Word of Life Community)

Making the right choice
(Anglican Mainstream)

You cannot excuse yourself by the unjust command of your superior; nor the ill example of your pastor, whose life counter-preaches his doctrine, for that shall aggravate his, but not excuse your sin; nor the influence of stars, or such a working of a necessary and inevitable and unconditioned decree of God as may obstruct a religious walking in this life, or a happy resting in the life to come. It is none of these, not the sin of your Father, not the sin of the present times, not the sin of your pastor, nor of destiny, nor of decrees, but it is your sin, your own sin.
- John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Prevent us O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is the Anglican translation - from the Book of Common Prayer - of an old prayer from the Gregorian Sacramentary, which is now the Collect for Thursday After Ash Wednesday in the current Roman Missal. Re the translation: Some people complain about retaining "archaisms" ("prevent" = "go before us"), but as Christopher Howse has commented on this particular Collect, "Once the meaning is learnt by children, the archaism is no obstacle. Archaism often goes towards dignity, gravity and beauty."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday - the Beginning of Lent

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

FIRST READING - Joel 2:12-18
"Yet even now," says the Lord: "Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments."

Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, "Spare thy people, O Lord, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, `Where is their God?'"

Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.

SECOND READING - 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Brethren: We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation."

Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

GOSPEL - Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: "Beware of practising your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

May God the Father, in his mercy, grant all of you,
like the prodigal Son,
the joy of returning home. Amen.

May Christ, our model of prayer and life,
guide you through this Lent
to true conversion of heart. Amen.

May the Spirit of wisdom and strength
sustain you in your struggle against evil,
and enable you to celebrate with Christ the victory of Easter. Amen.

May the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.

LENT begins today, ideally a subdued day on which we all go to church. During today's Mass the priest marks our foreheads with blessed ashes, saying: "Remember O man that you are dust, and to dust you will return."

These words are from the Genesis account of our creation and fall. The ceremony reminds us of the mortality and frailty of human life. Vanity and foolish pride are silenced by that terrible formula: "to dust you will return."

We're not trying to be gloomy! We are just facing facts. In her wisdom, the Church does not pretend, or let us pretend that we do not die. During Lent the Church makes us face up to the dysfunctionality of our relationship with God, and on Ash Wednesday she forces us to come to terms with the fact of our mortality . . . that one day we will die. But she also points to what God, in his love and compassion, has done for us.

Through the sin and the gloom a light shines - the light of Jesus, who came to give us "life in all its fullness" - and the Church points to that light. The very ashes placed on our foreheads, a symbol of the dissolution and decay of our material bodies, are, in the Anglican tradition, imposed in the form of the life-giving Cross where life conquered death and love conquered hatred.

There IS a way out of the shadows - the way of the Cross and Resurrection, to which we journey during Lent, the "healing time" par excellence of the Christian year.

So, dust and ashes we are . . . but not merely dust and ashes! In Jesus we partake in that new creation into which we are being transformed.

Click HERE to read my LENT MESSAGE for 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

LENT is about to begin

Here is the Exhortation read by the priest in the Ash Wednesday Mass just before we receive the imposition of ashes as a sign of our repentance, and an acknowledgment of our mortality:

Dear People of God:

The first Christians observed with great devotion
the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection,
and it became the custom of the Church
to prepare for them
by a season of penitence and fasting.

This season of Lent provided a time
in which converts to the Faith
were prepared for Holy Baptism. Keep reading . . .

And here is my MESSAGE for Lent, 2010:

I want to tell you about someone whose life was changed - a man in the depths of despair who found new life and hope. He had been a great musician. As a child he had overtaken all his teachers. He had begun composing in childhood, and by the time he was in his twenties he was fabulously wealthy - the highest paid composer in the world, packing in the crowds wherever he performed.

At the same time, he was rude, self-opinionated, heavy drinking, and foul-mouthed in three different languages! Keep reading . . .

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Anglican-Orthodox "Moscow Statement" (1976) on the boundaries of the Eucharist

As a result of talks in 1962 between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Athenagoras I of Constantinople, the Primates of the Anglican Communion were approached and agreed unanimously to the setting up of an Anglican Theological Commission to confer with theologians of the Orthodox Churches. In 1964 the Third Pan-Orthodox Conference at Rhodes unanimously decided officially to resume dialogue with the Anglican Communion, and this was ratified by all the Orthodox Churches. After a preparatory phase (1966-72) in which the Anglican and Orthodox Commissions met separately, the first series of joint conversations took place (1973-6) and resulted in the production of the Moscow Agreed Statement on the Knowledge of God, the Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture, Scripture and Tradition, the Authority of the Councils, the Filioque Clause, the Church as the Eucharistic Community, and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist. The following is the substance of the Moscow Statement as touching on the Eucharist:

23. The eucharistic understanding of the Church affirms the presence of Jesus Christ in the Church, which is his Body, and in the Eucharist. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, all faithful communicants share in the one Body of Christ, and become one body in him.

24. The Eucharist actualizes the Church. The Christian community has a basic sacramental character. The Church can be described as a synaxis or an ecclesia, which is, in its essence, a worshipping and eucharistic assembly. The Church is not only built up by the Eucharist, but is also a condition for it. Therefore one must be a believing member of the Church in order to receive the Holy Communion. The Church celebrating the Eucharist becomes fully itself; that is koinonia, fellowship - communion. The Church celebrates the Eucharist as the central act of its existence, in which the ecclesial community, as a living reality confessing its faith, receives its realization.

25. Through the consecratory prayer, addressed to the Father, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of the glorified Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit in such a way that the faithful people of God receiving Christ may feed upon him in the sacrament (1 Cor. 10.16). Thus the Church depends upon the action of the Holy Spirit and is the visible community in which the Spirit is known.

26. The eucharisdc action of the Church is the Passover from the old to the new. It anticipates and really shares in the eternal Rule and Glory of God. Following the Apostolic and Patristic teaching, we affirm that the eucharistic elements become, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Body and Blood of Christ, the bread of immortality, to give to us the forgiveness of sins, the new creation, and eternal life. The celebration of the Church in liturgy carries with it the sense of the eternal reality which precedes it, abides in it, and is still to come.

27. In the Eucharist the eternal priesthood of Christ is constantly manifested in time. The celebrant, in his liturgical action, has a twofold ministry: as an icon of Christ, acting in the name of Christ, towards the community and also as a representative of the community expressing the priesthood of the faithful. In each local eucharistic celebration the visible unity and catholicity of the Church is manifested fully. The question of the relationship between the celebrant and his bishop and that among bishops themselves requires further study.

28. The Eucharist impels the believers to specific action in mission and service to the world. In the eucharistic celebration the Church is a confessing community which witnesses to the cosmic transfiguration. Thus God enters into a personal historic situation as the Lord of creation and of history. In the Eucharist the End breaks into our midst, bringing the judgement and hope of the New Age. The final dismissal or benediction in the liturgy is not an end to worship but a call to prayer and witness so that in the power of the Holy Spirit the believers may announce and convey to the world that which they have seen and received in the Eucharist.

29. The Eucharist is the action of the Holy Trinity. The Father gives the Body and the Blood of Christ by the descent of the Holy Spirit to the Church in response to the Church's prayer. The Liturgy is this prayer for the eucharistic gifts to be given. It is in this context that the invocation of the Holy Spirit should be understood. The operation of the Holy Spirit is essential to the Eucharist whether it is explicitly expressed or not. When it is articulated, the 'Epiclesis' voices the work of the Spirit with the Father in the consecration of the elements as the Body and Blood of Christ.

30. The consecration of the bread and the wine results from the whole sacramental liturgy. The act of consecration includes certain proper and appropriate moments - thanksgiving, anamnesis, Epiclesis. The deepest understanding of the hallowing of the elements rejects any theory of consecration by formula - whether by Words of Institution or Epiclesis.1 For the Orthodox the culminating and decisive moment in the consecration is the Epiclesis.

31. The unity of the members of the Church is renewed by the Spirit in the eucharistic act. The Spirit comes not only upon the elements, but upon the community. The Epiclesis is a double invocation: by the invocation of the Spirit, the members of Christ are fed by his Body and Blood so that they may grow in holiness and may be strong to manifest Christ to the world and to do his work in the power of the Spirit. 'We hold this treasure in earthen vessels.' The reception of the Holy Gifts calls for repentance and obedience. Christ judges the sinful members of the Church. The time is always at hand when judgement must begin at the household of God (2 Cor. 4.7; 1 Pet. 4.17).

32. Although Epiclesis has a special meaning in the Eucharist, we must not restrict the concept to the Eucharist alone. In every sacrament, prayer and blessing the Church invokes the Holy Spirit and in all these various ways calls upon him to sanctify the whole creation. The Church is that Community which lives by continually invoking the Holy Spirit.