Thursday, April 29, 2010

Docile humility and grazing cows

Baron Friedrich von Hugel (1852-1925), was a Roman Catholic lay theologian who lived most of his life in Great Britain. He was well known as a scholar, writer, and spiritual director. He was, in fact, Evelyn Underhill's spiritual director, and it is clear that she followed his example in communicating spiritual truths in homely and practical ways.

At the heart of his teaching was the conviction that a balanced Christian lives in a creative tension between three elements: the intellectual, the institutional, and the mystical.
This classic passage is from Letters from Baron Friedrich von Hugel to a Niece (London: J.M. Dent, 1928):

Von Hugel in said to his neice that a spirit of humility was necessary because ". . . there exist oceans of reality - of things and laws beautiful, true, good and holy, beyond this our present insight and operation. I so love to watch cows as they browse at the borders, up against the hedges of fields. They move along, with their great tongues drawing in just only what they can assimilate; yes - but without stopping to snort defiantly against what does not thus suit them. It is as though those creatures had the good sense to realize that those plants which do not suit them - that these will be gladly used up by sheep, goats or horses; indeed, that some of these plants may suit them - the cows themselves - later on. So ought we to do: not sniff and snort at what we do not understand here and now; not proclaim, as though it were a fact interesting to anyone but ourselves, that we do not, here and now, understand this or that thing; but we should just merely, quite quietly, let such things stand over, as possibly very true, though to us they look very foolish - as indeed, possibly, things that we ourselves will come to penetrate as true and rich indeed. In a word, we can and should be sure of all that is positive and fruitful for us in our outlook; sure, also, that whatever really contradicts that is false. But as to possible further truths and facts, we will leave ourselves peacefully docile and open."

Monday, April 26, 2010

But did it REALLY happen???

A real classic from 40 years ago is Michael Green's Book, Runaway World. Of course, it is slightly dated now, and some of its references have lost their relevance (does anybody these days even remember John Allegro and his mushroom theories?). However, the entire text of Runaway World is available online HERE.

It can still be recommended as an introduction to the claims of the Christian Faith. If you're trying to make sense of the idea of Jesus rising from the dead, it would be difficult to suggest a better place to begin reading.

Michael Green (b. 1930), a former parish priest, theological college principal, evangelist and teacher, has had a long ministry in England and North America, also visiting most other parts of the world. He has written over 50 books. He manages to "break down" and "liven up" the work of scholars for us ordinary people. His books always challenge the reader to consider the claims of Jesus. Here is the beginning of his chapter, "Running Away From History":

A MILITANTLY AGNOSTIC SIXTH-FORMER was somewhat intrigued, and a little annoyed, by the fact that the captain of the school had recently become a decided and vocal Christian. So he accepted an invitation to go to an informal meeting in the house of a well-liked Christian master where the faith was to be discussed. He felt intellectually superior to the majority of others who were there, and was confident of his ability to show that the Jesus story was fictitious and the Gospel accounts highly unreliable.

It so happened that this young man left the house that evening in a very different frame of mind from that in which he entered it. But the position he originally held is not an uncommon one. Many young people today think that Christianity is 'a load of rubbish'. For example, the sickening sentimentality which surrounds the Christmas festivities each year confirms them in their conviction that in the nativity we have to do with a fairy story, something that does not belong to the real world. Those who really swallow this sort of thing must, they feel, prefer fantasy to fact.

It is not only schoolboys who regard Christianity as unhistorical . . . CONTINUE READING HERE

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Scientist on the Resurrection

The Rev Canon John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge. His latest book is Questions of Truth, with Nicholas Beale. In this article, published in the Times on April 11, 2009, he comments on the Resurrection of Jesus from the standpoint of a scientist.

If being a scientist teaches you anything it is surely that the world is surprising, often behaving in strange ways that we could not have anticipated. Who would have thought in 1899 that something could sometimes behave like a wave (spread out and flappy) and sometimes like a particle (a little bullet)? Yet that is how light has been found to behave, and physicists have come to understand how this seemingly oxymoronic combination is possible.

This sort of experience means that the instinctive question for a scientist to ask is not "Is it reasonable?", as if we knew beforehand the shape that rationality had to take, but rather "What makes you think that might be the case?"

That is a question at once more open and more demanding. It does not try to specify beforehand the form that an acceptable answer has to take, but if you are to persuade me that some unexpected possibility is true, you will have to offer evidence in support of your claim. Science trades in the search for truth attainable through motivated belief.

So does religion. I am entirely happy to approach the search for religious truth in a similar spirit to that in which I look for scientific truth. If the physical world often proves to be surprising, it would scarcely seem strange if the Creator of that world also exceeded our prior expectations. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Jesus Christ is that we have all heard of Him. Of course He had an impressive public ministry, saying wise things and doing compassionate deeds. But then it all seemed to collapse and fall apart. He was arrested, deserted by His disillusioned followers, painfully and shamefully executed, suffering a death that any pious 1st-century Jew would have seen as a sign of God's rejection (Deuteronomy says "cursed is anyone hung on a tree").

Two of the gospels tell us that from the gallows he cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" That first Good Friday, it must have seemed that that promising ministry had ended in abject failure and that Jesus had proved to be no more than yet another 1st-century messianic pretender. I believe that if the story of Jesus really ended there, we would never have heard of Him. He would just have dropped out of historical remembrance, as grandiose claims and exciting hopes proved to be empty.

Yet we have all heard of Jesus, and He has been a powerfully influential figure for 2,000 years. Something happened to continue his story. All the writers of the New Testament believe that what happened was his Resurrection from the dead the first Easter Day. Can we today believe this strange counterintuitive claim? Looking for the motivations for this belief requires a careful and scrupulous assessment of the evidence. Here I can do no more than sketch the considerations that persuade me to bet my life on accepting the claim. The belief that within history a man should rise from death to lead a life of unending glory would have seemed as strange in the 1st century as it does to us today. Many Jews believed that at the end of history the dead would be raised, and there were stories of people who had emerged from apparent death for a further spell of life before finally dying, but that was resuscitation not absolute resurrection. The claim that Jesus is a living Lord is quite different. The New Testament offers two lines of evidence. One line is the appearance stories, strangely varied, yet with a surprisingly persistent theme, that initially it was hard to recognise the risen Christ. I believe that this is a genuine historical reminiscence, indicating that these are not just a bunch of made-up tales constructed by a variety of early Christians.

Then there are the empty-tomb stories. If these were just concocted, why make women the discoverers when they were regarded as unreliable witnesses in the ancient world? Clearly there is much more that needs to be said, but I hope I have said enough to show that a scientist, open to unexpected beliefs but stringent in demanding adequate motivation for them, can believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, the fundamental pivot on which Christian belief turns.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Russian Journey to Christ (Metropolitan Anthony)

I met Christ as a Person at a moment when I needed him in order to live, and at a moment when I was not in search of him. I was found; I did not find him. I was a teenager then. Life had been difficult in the early years and now it had of a sudden become easier.

All the years when life had been hard I had found it natural, if not easy, to fight; but when life became easy and happy I was faced quite unexpectedly with a problem: I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome, there was something beyond them. Happiness seemed to be stale if it had no further meaning. As it often happens when you are young and when you act with passion, bent to possess either everything or nothing, I decided that I would give myself a year to see whether life had a meaning, and if I discovered it had none I would not live beyond the year.

Months passed and no meaning appeared on the horizon. One day, it was during Lent, and I was then a member of one of the Russian youth organizations in Paris, one of our leaders came up to me and said . . . CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING

METROPOLITAN ANTHONY OF SOUROZH was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1914. He spent his early childhood in Russia and Persia, his father being a member of the Russian Imperial Diplomatic Corps. His mother was the sister of Alexander Scriabin, the composer. During the Russian Revolution the family had to leave Persia, and in 1923 settled in Paris where the future Metropolitan was educated, graduating in physics, chemistry and biology, and taking his doctorate in medicine, at the University of Paris.

In 1939, before leaving for the front as a surgeon in the French army, he secretly professed monastic vows. He was tonsured and received the name of Anthony in 1943. During the occupation of France by the Germans he worked as a doctor and took part in the Anti-Fascist movement of the Resistance. After the war he continued practising as a physician until 1948, when he was ordained to the priesthood and sent to England to serve as Orthodox Chaplain of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. He was appointed vicar of the Russian patriarchal parish in London in 1950, consecrated as Bishop in 1957 and Archbishop in 1962, in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland. In 1963 he was appointed Exarch of the Moscow Patriarchate in Western Europe, and in 1966 was raised to the rank of Metropolitan. At his own request he was released in 1974 from the function of Exarch, in order to devote himself more fully to the pastoral needs of the growing flock of his Diocese and all who come to him seeking advice and help.

During the long years of Soviet rule, Metropolitan Anthony played an important part in keeping the faith alive in Russia through countless BBC World Service broadcasts. Perhaps still more important were the annual BBC broadcasts of the All-Night Paschal Vigil service at the London Cathedral. As Matins began, Metropolitan Anthony would emerge from behind the iconostasis to encourage the congregation, as they stood waiting in the dark, to speak up with their responses as this would be the only Paschal service that many in the Soviet Union would hear.

Beginning in the sixties, he was able to make occasional visits to Soviet Russia, where he not only preached in churches but spoke informally to hundreds of people who gathered in private apartments to meet him and engage in dialogue. Books based on his sermons were circulated in samizdat among Russian intellectuals until they could be openly published in the 1990s.

Metropolitan Anthony was Honoris Causa Divinity Doctor: of Aberdeen University 'for preaching the Word of God and renewing the spiritual life of this country'; of the Moscow Theological Academy for his theological, pastoral and preaching work; of Cambridge University; and of the Kiev Theological Academy. His first books on prayer and the spiritual life (Living Prayer, Meditations on a Theme and God and Man) were published in England, and his texts are now widely published in Russia, both as books and in periodicals.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, died peacefully 4th August, 2003, at the age of 89.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Easter and the Eucharist

This is a prayer by Thomas Comber (1645-1699) , sometime Dean of Durham.

I will go to thy altar with joy,
and tell out thy works with gladness,
O most mighty Saviour,
who hast not only died for my sins,
but risen again for my justification.

This memorial of thy Death
is become a feast of joy,
because it is an assurance of thy Resurrection,
as well as a commemoration of thy Passion.

And since thou livest, sweetest Jesus,
we live also:
thy resurrection raised our hearts
from sad despair;
it gives a new life to our hopes;
it makes our sorrows light,
our labours easy,
our lives cheerful,
and our death advantage,
because it hath lost its sting,
and is become the gate into immortality.

We can charm all our fears and troubles
with this one word,
'The Lord is risen;'
yea, 'the Lord is risen indeed.'

For thou hast washed us in thy own Blood,
and made us kings and priests to God,
to offer up at this thy altar
never-ceasing praises.

Therefore with Angels, and Archangels,
and with all the Company of heaven,
we laud and magnify thy glorious Name. Amen.

Resurrection of the Flesh and Holy Communion

This passage from St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (Against Heresies Lib. 5,2, 2-3: SC 153, 30-38) is set to be read today by those who use The Divine Office. Written around 185 AD, it is one of the classic passages on the Eucharist, giving what we might call "unintentional" evidence of the early Church's high view of the Sacrament. Irenaeus argues backwards from what he obviously regards as already traditional Christian teaching on the Eucharist to the salvation of the flesh and the resurrection of Jesus. This passage is particularly important because of how early it is in our “family history.” Irenaeus was a disciple of St Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of St John the Apostle.

If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body. There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us. As the Apostle says: In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.

We are his members and we are nourished by creatures, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall. He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood. He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body. When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord's own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God's gift of eternal life? Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. He is not speaking of some spiritual and incorporeal kind of man, for spirits do not have flesh and bones. He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones, nourished by the chalice of Christ's blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.

The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of man and when they receive God's word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God's power is shown most perfectly in weakness.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More on the 153 fish . . .

Just when you thought we were about to move on from Sunday's gospel reading, Fr Neville Rohrlach emailed me another - very ingenious - interpretation of the 153 fish! This comes from The New Testament: An Introduction, Volume 3, by Fr Paul Nadim Tarazi, published by St Vladimir's Seminary Press, NY., 2004:

Even the number of fish caught may have a symbolic role to play ("Simon Peter ... hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them"). John could have said simply "a great shoal of fish (as in Luke 5:6) or something to that effect, so if he included an actual number, the number is probably symbolic. Like 666 in Revelation, it was most likely derived by adding up the numeric values of letters in a word or phrase. Since the passage underscores the necessity of including the Gentiles in Christ's church, the author must have had the totality of Abraham's "children" in mind (which may also be behind Jesus' address to the disciples as "children' in Jn 21:5) The relevant scriptural text would then be the one about the institution of circumcision (Gen 17:1-14), in which male children of every origin or status were invited into the covenant with Abraham. The opening of that passage reads as follows:

'When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blame- less. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly." Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations (hmon goym). No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations (hmon goym). I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."' (Gen 17:1-8)

The Hebrew letters hmon goym would amount to 160. (h=5, m=40, o/w=6, n=50, g=3, y=10) If one deducts seven for the seven disciples present when the fish are brought in (Jn 2,1:1), then one would end up with 153. The symbolism of this number would then confirm everything else in this passage by indicating that for God's promise to Abraham to be fulfilled, everyone in the Roman empire - Jew and Gentile alike - must be included in his people, the church. The seven disciples would represent what Paul calls "the Israel of God," that is, the Jews who accept Jesus as the Messiah, while the 153 are the Gentiles who are now invited to join them as an integral part of God's people - as a branch grafted onto a tree (Rom 11:16-24).

The mission to the Gentiles is then explicitly brought into the context of the meal itself. Before the disciples could start eating the bread and the fish they already had, the Lord tells them: "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught" (Jn 21:10). Only then does he invite them to breakfast (v. 12) and distribute to them his food (v. 13). This is clearly Eucharistic imagery reflecting what Paul wrote about the Lord's supper in 1 Cor 11:17-26, and this Eucharistic meal completes the resurrection revelation. (20) "This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead" (v. 14) [Emphasis added]. The number "three" symbolizes assuredness and completeness just as Jesus' "three days" in the tomb expressed the certainty that he was truly dead, so now "three revelations" of the risen Lord demonstrate with an equal degree of assuredness that he truly lives.

Monday, April 19, 2010

So . . . why 153 fish?

That's the question I was asked after yesterday's sermon.

There are two main ideas:

Father George Rutler writes: ". . . the importance consists in this: There were specifically one hundred and fifty-three fish. This happened. In a legend, there would have been a million, and the fish would have been gossamer or golden or not fish at all but sparkling stars. The fishermen never forgot the details. As architects say, God is in the details."

2) "153" IS A SYMBOLIC NUMBER. Aristotle is said to have taught that there were 153 different species of fish in the Mediterranean. I've tried without success to find the exact reference in Aristotle, but St Jerome (345-420) alludes to this teaching when commenting on Ezekiel 47:9: "Those who have written about animated nature say that there are an hundred and fifty-three kinds of fish. One of each of these kinds was caught by the Apostle, and more remained uncaught. For noble and ignoble, rich and poor, all sorts and conditions of men, are drawn out of the sea of this world to salvation." So, the story is a symbol of the apostles' ministry of evangelising ALL people . . . without "breaking the net."

It’s interesting to look at other commentaries on the passage from the patristic age. Now, the kind of interpretation of Scripture that owes more to the ingenuity of the preacher than to the text itself is not entirely lacking among the Fathers! As many readers know, I am a serious devotee of typology as a way of holding together the Old and New Testaments (remember the posts on Luke 24?) And it is also clear to me that typology is the key to understanding the evolution of the liturgy from the texts of Holy Scripture in both east and west. However, in my youth I knew a Pentecostal preacher - a godly man - whose imagination nonetheless ran right out of control when it came to biblical types and shadows and numerology. He could prove just about anything with his Bible, his imagination, and his calculator. I thought he was in a league of his own, until as a student I was introduced to some of the Fathers, who leave him for dead! Just look at these passages from St Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444) and St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) on the 153 fish:

First St Cyril: ". . . they put the mass of captured fish before Him Who had commanded them to be caught; and the quantity of the fish is indicated by the number 153. The number 100, to the best of my judgment, signifies the complement of the nations, for the number 100 is a very perfect number, being compounded of 10 times 10; and for this reason our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in one place, speaks in the parable of having 100 sheep belonging to Him, signifying the complete sum of rational creatures, and in another place declares that the best ground will bring forth a hundredfold, meaning thereby the perfect fertility of the righteous soul. The number 50, on the other hand, betokens the elect remnant of the Israelites, saved by grace; for 50 is half 100, and falls short of the perfect number in amount. And by the three, reference is made to the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity, the number alone showing this; for to the glory and ceaseless praise of the Trinity the life of those who have been taken captive through faith is consecrated, and implies connexion with the Godhead. For God is in all those who believe in Him, and keeps nigh unto Him, by means of sanctification, those who have been won over by the teaching of the Gospel."

Then St Augustine: ". . . of the reason of this number we must now, with the Lord's help, give some account. For if we determine on the number that should indicate the law, what else can it be but ten? For we have absolute certainty that the Decalogue of the law, that is, those ten well-known precepts, were first written by the finger of God on two tables of stone. Deuteronomy 9:10 But the law, when it is not aided by grace, makes transgressors, and is only in the letter, on account of which the apostle specially declared, The letter kills, but the spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6 Let the spirit then be added to the letter, lest the letter kill him whom the spirit makes not alive, and let us work out the precepts of the law, not in our own strength, but by the grace of the Saviour. But when grace is added to the law, that is, the spirit to the letter, there is, in a kind of way, added to ten the number of seven. For this number, namely seven, is testified by the documents of holy writ given us for perusal, to signify the Holy Spirit. For example, sanctity or sanctification properly pertains to the Holy Spirit, whence, as the Father is a spirit, and the Son a spirit, because God is a spirit, so the Father is holy and the Son holy, yet the Spirit of both is called peculiarly by the name of the Holy Spirit. Where, then, was there the first distinct mention of sanctification in the law but on the seventh day? For God sanctified not the first day, when He made the light; nor the second, when He made the firmament; nor the third, when He separated the sea from the land, and the land brought forth grass and timber; nor the fourth, wherein the stars were created; nor the fifth, wherein were created the animals that live in the waters or fly in the air; nor the sixth, when the terrestrial living soul and man himself were created; but He sanctified the seventh day, wherein He rested from all His works. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is aptly represented by the septenary number. The prophet Isaiah likewise says, The Spirit of God shall rest on Him; and thereafter calls our attention to that Spirit in His septenary work or grace, by saying, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and piety; and He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of God. Isaiah 11:2-3 And what of the Revelation? Are they not there called the seven Spirits of God, Revelation 3:1 while there is only one and the same Spirit dividing to every one severally as He will? 1 Corinthians 12:11 But the septenary operation of the one Spirit was so called by the Spirit Himself, whose own presence in the writer led to their being spoken of as the seven Spirits. Accordingly, when to the number of ten, representing the law, we add the Holy Spirit as represented by seven, we have seventeen; and when this number is used for the adding together of every several number it contains, from 1 up to itself, the sum amounts to one hundred and fifty-three. For if you add 2 to 1, you have 3 of course; if to these you add 3 and 4, the whole makes 10; and then if you add all the numbers that follow up to 17, the whole amounts to the foresaid number; that is, if to 10, which you had reached by adding all together from 1 to 4, you add 5, you have 15; to these add 6, and the result is 21; then add 7, and you have 28; to this add 8, and 9, and 10, and you get 55; to this add 11 and 12, and 13, and you have 91; and to this again add 14, 15, and 16, and it comes to 136; and then add to this the remaining number of which we have been speaking, namely, 17, and it will make up the number of fishes. But it is not on that account merely a hundred and fifty-three saints that are meant as hereafter to rise from the dead unto life eternal, but thousands of saints who have shared in the grace of the Spirit, by which grace harmony is established with the law of God, as with an adversary; so that through the life-giving Spirit the letter no longer kills, but what is commanded by the letter is fulfilled by the help of the Spirit, and if there is any deficiency it is pardoned. All therefore who are sharers in such grace are symbolized by this number, that is, are symbolically represented. This number has, besides, three times over, the number of fifty, and three in addition, with reference to the mystery of the Trinity; while, again, the number of fifty is made up by multiplying 7 by 7, with the addition of 1, for 7 times 7 make 49. And the 1 is added to show that there is one who is expressed by seven on account of His sevenfold operation; and we know that it was on the fiftieth day after our Lord's ascension that the Holy Spirit was sent, for whom the disciples were commanded to wait according to the promise."

Well, that's pretty exhausting stuff, isn't it! I included it really just to prove that I wasn't exaggerating.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My personal view is that Fr Rutler is right . . . i.e. that the passage clearly smacks of eyewitness testimony, while at the same time the number 153, coinciding neatly with zoological theories of the ancients, enables the incident to become a great symbol of the universality of the apostles' ministry, just before the Lord renews the vocation of Peter.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

An Eastertide Treat

This is a stunning rendition of the Te Deum Laudamus from Notre Dame, Paris. Famous organist Pierre Cochereau (1924 - 1984) improvises after each line of chant sung by the Maîtrise de Notre-Dame-de-Paris led by Cantor Jehan Revert.

André Fleury, who was one of Cochereau's first organ teachers, said of him later in life
"As one day we were en tête à tête, I asked him if he worked on improvisation. 'Never,' he replied. 'What I do at Notre-Dame and in concert serves as practice.' Such gifts, when one thinks of his harmonic language, so subtly refined, and what force of concentration to give a form to all those riches!" In regard to Cochereau's formidable improvisational skills, the great Marcel Dupré , also one of Cochereau's teachers, said of his former student, "Pierre Cochereau is a phenomenon without equal in the history of the contemporary organ."

Resurrection of the Flesh

Today's Gospel Reading (John 21:1-12), following on from last week, emphasises the objective reality of the resurrection of Jesus. This is no mere "mystical" or "spritual" experience the Apostles had. It is history - real history, and Jesus had impressed upon them the reality of his resurrection body, a point emphasised by the following quotes from today's pew bulletin.

WILLIAM BARCLAY (1907-1978):

This chapter [John 21] was added to the already finished gospel . . . to demonstrate once and for all the reality of the Resurrection. There were many who said that the appearances of the Risen Christ were nothing more than visions which the apostles had.

Many would admit the reality of the visions, but would insist that they were still only visions. Some would go further and would say that they were not visions but hallucinations. Now, the gospels go far out of their way to insist that the Risen Christ was not a vision, not an hallucination, not even a spirit, but a real person. The gospels insist that the tomb was empty. The gospels insist that the Risen Christ had a real body which still bore the marks of the nails nand the sword thrust in his side.

But this story goes a step further. A vision or a spirit would not be likely to point out a shoal of fish to a party of fishermen. A vision or a spirit would not be likely to kindle a charcoal fire on the seashore. A visions or a spirit would not be likely to cook a meal and to share it out. And yet, as to story has it, the Risen Christ did all these things. When John tells how Jesus came back to his disciples when the doors were shut, he says: "He showed them his hands and his side." (John 20:20). Ignatius (3rd Bishop of Antioch who died around 107 AD), when he was writing to the Church at Smyrna, relates an even more definite tradition about that. He says: "I know and believe that [Jesus] was in the flesh even after the Resurrection, and when he came to Peter and his company, he said to them: 'Take, handle me, and see that I am not a bodiless demon.' And straightway they touched him, and they believed, for they were firmly convinced of his flesh and blood... And after his Resurrection he ate and drank with them as one in the flesh."

... The Resurrection was not a vision; it was not the figment of someone's excited imagination; it was not the appearance of a spirit or a ghost; it was Jesus who had conquered death and who had come back.

"What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands, we proclaim now to you" (1 John 1:1). The apostles speak about things which they have not sought but which unexpectedly surrounded them; about the fact which they did not discover but, so to speak, unexpectedly found them and seized them... While they were fishing, Jesus appeared to them and cautiously and slowly introduced them to a new vocation in the service of himself. At first, they did not believe him but they, still more cautiously and slowly with fear and hesitation and much wavering, came toward him and recognized him. Until the apostles saw him many times with their own eyes and until they discussed him many times among themselves and, until they felt him with their own hands, their experienced fact is supernatural but their method of recognizing this fact is thoroughly sensory and positively learned.... The apostles saw not only one miracle but numerous miracles. They heard not only one lesson but many lessons which could not be contained in numerous books. They saw the resurrected Lord for forty days; they walked with him, they conversed with him, they ate with him, and they touched him. In a word: they personally and first handedly had thousands of wondrous facts by which they learned and confirmed one great fact, i.e., that Jesus is the God-Man, the Son of the Living God, the Man-loving Saviour of mankind and the All-Powerful Judge of the living and the dead.

C.S. LEWIS (1898-1963):
Jesus has forced open a door that had been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because he has done so.

Patriarchal Proclamation

Each Easter, the Patriarch of Constantinople, composes a proclamation to be read in all Orthodox churches. Below is part of Patriarch Bartholomew's proclamation for this year. It can be found in its entirety HERE.

. . . Christ has risen from the tomb as divinely human and humanity has risen with him! The tyranny of death belongs to the past. The hopelessness of hades' captivity has irrevocably gone. The only powerful Giver of Life, having through His Incarnation voluntarily assumed all of the misfortune of our nature and all that it entails, namely death, has already "brought death to hades by the lightning of divinity", granting us life - and "life in abundance" (John 10:10).

. . . The devil assaults Life by means of the sinful tendency that exists within us like "old rust", using this to entrap us in either tangible sin or delusional belief. Hubris is the offspring of that "rust", while both comprise the sinister couple responsible for disrupting relationships within ourselves, with others, as well as with God and the whole creation. Accordingly, it is imperative that we purify ourselves of this rust with great attentiveness and carefulness in order that the profuse life-giving light of the Risen Christ may shine in our mind, soul and body, so that it may in turn dispel the darkness of hubris and pour the "abundance" of Life to all the world.

This cannot be achieved by philosophy, science, technology, art, or any ideology; it can only be achieved through faith in what God has condescended for us human beings through His Passion, Crucifixion and Burial, descending to the depths of hades and rising from the dead as the divine human Jesus Christ. It is also expressed in the sacramental life of the Church as well as through laborious and systematic spiritual struggle. The Church as the Body of Christ unceasingly and to the ages experiences the miracle of the Resurrection; through its sacred mysteries, its theology and its practical teachings, it offers us the possibility of participating in that miracle of sharing in the victory over death, of becoming children shaped by the light of the Resurrection and truly "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) . . .

East and West . . . Patriarch Bartholomew with Pope Benedict.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Doubting Thomas

by Fr Alexander Schmemann (1921 - 1983), long-time Dean of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, New York.

"Unless I see . . . I will not believe" (John 20:25). So said Thomas, one of Christ's twelve disciples, in response to the joyful news of those who had seen their crucified and buried Teacher risen from the dead. Eight days later, as recorded in the gospels, when the disciples once again were all together, Christ appeared and told Thomas: "Put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side; be not faithless, but believing." And Thomas exclaimed: "My Lord and my God!" Then Christ told him: "You have believed because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe . . ." (John 20:24-31).

Millions of people today think and speak essentially like Thomas, and assume that this is the only correct approach worthy of any thinking person. "Unless I see, I will not believe..." In our contemporary speech isn't this the "scientific approach?" But Christ says: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." This means that there is, and was, another approach, another standard, another possibility. True, others may say, but that approach is naïve and not rational; it's unscientific; it's for people who are backward; and since I'm a person of the modern world, "Unless I see, I will not believe."

We live in a world of great oversimplification and therefore spiritual poverty. "Scientific" or "Unscientific." People use words like these all the time as if they were self-evident and self-explanatory, and they use them because everyone else also uses them, without reflection, without debate. In fact, they themselves believe these reductions blindly and simplistically, and so any other approach appears to them as neither serious nor worthy of attention. The question is already decided. But is that really true? I just said that we live in a world of great spiritual poverty. And indeed, if the end result of humanity's interminable development boils down to this pronouncement, "I won't believe it till I see it"; if the human race looks upon this as the height of wisdom and reason's greatest victory, then our world truly is poor, superficial, and most all, incredibly boring. If I only know what I see, touch, measure and analyze, then how little I really know! The whole world of the human spirit falls by the wayside, all the intuition and profound knowledge that flow not from "I see" or "I touch," but from "I think" and, most importantly, "I contemplate."

What falls away is that realm of knowledge which for centuries was rooted not in external, observable experience, but in another human faculty, an amazing and perhaps inexplicable ability that sets human beings apart from everything else and makes them truly unique. Even robots, machines and computers can now touch, handle and manipulate objects; they can make accurate observations, and even make predictions. We know that they actually perform better than human beings in measuring, comparing, making exact observations flawlessly; they are more accurate, more "scientific." But here is what no robot, under any circumstances, will ever be able to do: to be filled with wonder, to be awed, to have feelings, to be moved by tenderness, to rejoice, to see what can't be seen by measurement or analysis of any kind. No robot will hear those unheard sounds that give birth to music and poetry; no robot will ever cry, or trust. But without all this doesn't our world become colorless, boring and, I would say, unnecessary? Oh yes, planes and spaceships will fly ever further and faster. But where to and what for? Oh yes, laboratories will conduct their analyses with ever increasing accuracy. But to what end? "For the good of humanity," I'm told. I understand, so this means that one day we will have a healthy, well fed, self-satisfied human being walking about, who will be totally blind, totally deaf and totally unaware of his deafness and blindness.

"Unless I see I will not believe." Clearly, however, observable experience, empirical data, is just one form of knowledge, the most elementary, and therefore the lowest form. Empirical analysis is useful and necessary, but to reduce all human knowledge to this level is like trying to comprehend the beauty of a painting by a chemical analysis of its paint. What we call faith is at a second and higher level of human knowledge, without which, it can be claimed, man would be unable to live even a single day. Every person believes in something or someone, so the only question is whose faith, whose vision, whose knowledge of the world corresponds more accurately and more completely to the richness and complexity of life.

Some say that the resurrection of Christ must be a fabrication since the dead do not rise. True, if there is no God. But if God exists, then death must be overthrown, since God cannot be a God of decay and death. Others will then say: but there is no God, since no one has seen him. But how then do you account for the experience of millions of people who joyfully affirm that they have seen, not with their physical eyes, but with a profound and certain inner sight? Two thousand years have passed, but when the joyful proclamation "Christ is risen!" descends as if from heaven, all still send out the same triumphant response, "Truly He is risen!"

Is it really true that you neither see nor hear? Is it really true that in the deepest part of your consciousness, away from all analysis, measurements and palpation, you neither see nor feel any undying, radiant light, you do not hear the sounds of an eternal voice: "I am the way, the resurrection and the life..."? Is it really true that in the depth of your soul you do not recognize Christ within us, within me, answering Doubting Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe?"

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Road to Emmaus - 4

Fr Michael Scanlon T.O.R., long-time President of Franciscan University, Stubenville, USA, was a significant leader of charismatic renewal in the early days. He visited Australia in 1975, and spoke of the need for renewal in our experience of the sacraments. The following is taken from his article, Meeting Jesus in the Sacraments, published in the October 1975 issue of New Covenant Magazine.

Three things need to happen for there to be a real renewal of sacramental life:

1. The sacraments must be understood as personal contacts with the saving, healing Lord Jesus. We must be able to experience the sacraments not as objective entities but as personal encounters through which Jesus reaches out to us - now saving, now forgiving, now consecrating and blessing, now uniting, now empowering, and now healing.

Unfortunately this original and necessary dimension of personal encounter and response eventually became overlooked in favour of the automatic effect of the sacraments. Rituals evolved to symbolize the specific action of grace in each sacrament to enrich the experiences and communicate the solemnity of what was happening. Today, our personal encounter with the Lord is precisely what is again being recognized and expected.

In a real way, we personally encounter Jesus in each of the sacraments. The model for this meeting appears in the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They meet Jesus but do not recognize him. They find his presence compelling; they respond, urging him to stay. He explains the Scriptures and their hearts burn within them. And then Jesus presents the sign of the Eucharist. "When he had seated himself with them to eat, he took the bread, pronounced the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, whereupon he vanished from their sight" (Luke 24:30-31).

From this incident there emerge some clear lessons on the sacraments. Luke is encouraging Christians to let the Spirit of Jesus reveal the Scriptures to them when they are gathered together. He is also teaching them to recognize Jesus - as did the disciples - in the breaking and distributing of the bread each time they celebrate the Eucharist. As soon as the disciples recognized Jesus in the sign of the bread, he disappeared; in other words, there was no longer a need for his physical presence. Now, knowing Jesus to be present among them, the disciples turn around, return to Jerusalem, and are reunited with their brethren. This is the purpose of all sacraments: to meet Jesus now, under the signs, and through that encounter to be more deeply united with the brethren.

2. The sacraments must be seen as an entering into a renewal and a deepening of the covenant life that God's people have together. Unless the sacraments are understood as establishing and renewing the covenant between God and man, the fulness of the encounter with Jesus will be lost. Jesus comes to his body, his church, and within that context to the individual man or woman. He does not come sacramentally to any person apart from the body. Each sacrament, therefore, is a call to respond, to go deeper and more specifically into our covenant with God.

Through Baptism, Jesus invited us into the solemn new covenant with God to become the new people of God. As the church developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this initiation found its completion in Confirmation - a baptism with "spirit and fire" and empowering to witness to the new covenant. In the Eucharist we celebrate the new covenant, opening our lives to the Spirit and deepening the covenant relationship. Penance enables us to be reconciled to the people of God by letting us repent of infidelity to the covenant. In Matrimony and Orders, special covenant relationships are established both to function within the people of God and to symbolize the broader covenant with God. Finally, we celebrate the nature of covenant as a healing, reconciling, life-giving relationship through the power of the Anointing of the Sick.

3. The priest and the people must expect the Lord to work powerfully in each sacramental action. While it is important to understand the sacraments rightly as encounters and covenant celebrations, it is equally important to approach them expecting the Lord to act powerfully in them here and now. It is a matter of lively, expectant faith. It is again reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus' garment saying, "If only I do, I will be healed." And since the community members call forth this faith from one another, the ministers too must expect that power will go forth from them. The more the sacramental words and actions truly represent a powerful Jesus and a living covenant relationship, the more expectant the faith will be.

It is time to renew the sacraments in their roots of power . . . to incorporate the good in current theology and liturgical practice into the overwhelming truth that Jesus the Lord is solemnly present to us in a saving way in each sacrament. Jesus is given as the Father's sacrament for us. We can meet him in every sacrament.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Road to Emmaus - 3

This is an edited transcript of a sermon I preached at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, Brisbane,
on Easter Day, 2003 at Evensong & Benediction.

It was near the end of Easter Day, the first Easter Day. According to Luke Chapter 24, two disciples of Jesus were on their way to Emmaus - about 11 km northwest of Jerusalem.

But their walk had become a trudge.

The bottom had fallen out of their world. Jesus of Nazareth, in whom they had placed their hope for a new and better world, had been killed by the authorities. He had such promise. "He could have called ten thousand angels . . ." as the old gospel song says. How come he didn't use his supernatural power to bring in God's Kingdom then and there?

That was a question in the minds of many people.

It seems that these two had not been part of the inner circle of disciples. Most likely they were among the hundreds who heard Jesus preach and believed in him, who knew him from a distance, from among the crowd.

There they were. Downhearted, despondent and without hope. But they became aware of someone else walking with them. Why didn't they know it was Jesus?

Commentators give all sorts of reasons. I think it was simply that they didn't expect it to be him, and they might never have seen him up close, anyway.

But . . . isn't that a picture of what happens to us? Hopes and dreams crumble, communities disintegrate, businesses go under, people let us down, super funds lose their value, we get a serious illness, or we're simply engulfed by an unexplained torpor. Things like these - and many others besides - trigger off the kind of depression and fear that can destroy us from the inside out.

How many times, when we feel like that, and our walk has become a trudge, do we fail to recognise the presence of Jesus with us?

Because . . . he DOES walk with you and me. Even when we don't recognise him he walks with us because he loves us. We call that "grace". He walks with you; he walks with me. Just as on that Road to Emmaus, he draws near in a special way when our journey becomes a trudge. He is there . . . in our darkest moments.

Though they didn't recognise him, Jesus managed to take their minds off themselves and how they felt. In fact, their hearts began to change even before they realised who he was. We know that, because later on when they looked back on the experience they said: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32)

There was something about his presence as he taught them from the Old Testament. ". . . beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself " (v. 27).

When they reached Emmaus, Jesus "made as if he was going further." Do you understand what he did . . . instead of imposing himself on them he gave them the prerogative of saying "yes" or "no" to what had begun happening in their lives. He does that to us!

And, do you know, we can close ourselves off to what might become a great adventure of faith, or we can - as people say - "go with the flow."

That's what they did. Even before they understood exactly what was happening to them, "they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent" (v.29). They invited him in.

You heard how the story ends. "Jesus went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight" (v. 30-32). They rushed back into Jerusalem to fine the Eleven, and "they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread" (v.35).

Do you see what this passage tells us about the Risen Jesus - how he makes himself known to his people?

First, he comes alongside us long before we recognise his presence, especially when we are empty and defeated. I've already spoken about that.

Second, he opens up the Scriptures to us. When we read the Scriptures or hear them expounded, we are not just gaining intellectual knowledge. The Risen Jesus speaks through his Word. He speaks to our hearts, our spirits. It is a supernatural communion. His Word expands our vision, heals our souls, and gives us strength. Did you know that in our day there is an unprecedented turning to the Scriptures among Christians of all backgrounds because, to use the language of Vatican II, we actually "encounter" the risen Jesus in his Word.

Referring to a teaching of the fourth century St Ambrose, Vatican II said that "prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for 'we speak to him when we pray; we hear him when we read the divine sayings'" (Dei verbum 25).

When was the last time you blew the dust off your Bible, turned off the television, and just began reading, maybe in the Psalms, or one of the Gospels, or a letter of St Paul, all the while asking the Lord to speak to you? Have you thought about following a system (like Bible Alive) or using the weekday Mass readings for your regular time in God's Word?

If you start doing that you will grow; you will be changed; your faith will become stronger; your heart will burn within you as you hear his voice.

Third, he is still known to us in the Breaking of the Bread. High up over the main altar of St John's Horsham in the Diocese of Ballarat - the second parish I served as rector - is a beautiful stained glass window of Jesus celebrating the Eucharist at Emmaus. Every time I looked up at the altar of St John's I would be reminded of this Mass at which Jesus was - literally in his risen body - the actual celebrant. I would say to my people there that whenever we come to Mass we are not only joined to the apostles in the upper room on the first Maundy Thursday when Jesus gave us the Eucharist; we are also joined to the Emmaus disciples at the end of Easter Sunday who had the amazing honour of being the congregation at the first Mass of the Resurrection!

Then the Lord "vanished out of their sight." What's going on here? Along with many scholars of this text I believe that because Jesus had chosen the "Breaking of the Bread" to be the place where his risen tangible presence would be encountered by his people, once the disciples recognised him there, he was able to withdraw the extraordinary and special grace of his "actual" resurrection body.

There you have it. That's why I love Holy Communion. It's not "just" a symbol. Jesus comes in all of his love and risen power in the Breaking of the Bread - the Mass - to bless us, to heal us, and to fill us with his resurrection life.

I've got one more thing to say.

Many Scripture scholars believe that the encounter of Jesus with these disciples is included by St Luke specifically to teach us about the Eucharist. That is, while this passage has its deeply personal application (upon which I dwelt earlier) it is, in fact, a pattern of the liturgy itself.

The references to the Word and the Breaking of the Bread have to do with the life of the whole believing community, which is why Luke doesn't omit to tell us that the disciples rush back to the apostles in Jerusalem. And to this day it is supremely as part of the apostolic community gathered for the proclamation of the Word and the Breaking of the Bread that we actually meet Jesus.

Because of this passage of St Luke I have a special job to do tonight. If you are from a catholic background I have to encourage you to become as much a "Bible Christian" as any evangelical you might know, recognising that the risen Jesus comes to us in his Word. No more sneering at people who love the Scriptures, underline verses, or learn texts off by heart!

And if you are from an evangelical background I have to encourage you to become as catholic as the Roman Catholics and Orthodox, recognizing the real presence of Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread. No more accusations of idolatry against those who would fall down in reverence before the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament!

In waht is rapidly becoming a post-Christian age, the Lord is calling us to be "evangelical catholics", and "catholic evangelicals."

Again, it all comes together in Vatican II's Dei verbum, where we find this very important statement: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body"
(Dei verbum 22).

Brothers and sisters, may you know and love the risen Jesus more and more; may your hearts burn within you as you hear him speaking to you in his holy Word; and may you never fail to recognize the love, the healing power, and the holiness of his presence in the Breaking of the Bread.

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Road to Emmaus - 2

And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
(Luke 24:25-27)

One of the textbooks I thoroughly enjoyed in my student days, and to which I have returned many times, is An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM Press, 1969 ed.) by Alan Richardson (1905-75), Dean of York, Professor of Christian Theology in the University of Nottingham and Canon of Durham Cathedral.

There are some truly memorable passages in this book, and it deserves to be better known among today’s theological students. One such passage occurs in the first chapter ("Faith and Hearing") in which Richardson explains his assumptions and methodology. I have reproduced it here, because it is related to yesterday's post on the Road to Emmaus and how the New Testament uses the Old Testament. Richardson asks the question, "Whose idea was it to reinterpret the Old Testament idea of redemption in this way?"

(By the way, following a criticism of yesterday's post, I have reluctantly broken up the quoted passage into smaller paragraphs "for the general reader"!)

. . . Many . . . details . . . elaborate this basic conception of Jesus as himself the New Israel who accomplishes and brings to its conclusion the role which the Old Israel essayed but did not complete. Where the Old Israel had failed, the New Israel conquered. The Scriptures were fulfilled; the story of redemption was concluded.

Since the rise of modern biblical scholarship the question has been asked, Who first thought of this way of setting forth the significance of the historical life of Jesus?

Every conceivable kind of answer has been given. It could not have been the Evangelists who first thought of it, because St Paul knew it long before St Mark's Gospel was written. It could hardly have been St Paul, if we may trust the evidence which he himself supplies, including, of course, his own protestations of loyalty to the Gospel which he had received. Could it, then, have been the community at large, the Church into which St Paul "was baptized?" Some scholars have assumed that the early Christian community collectively worked out the theology of Christ as the fulfilment of the Scriptures. Such a conclusion, however, is not convincing, because communities do not think out such brilliant reconstructions as this uniquely original reinterpretation of the OT plan of salvation.

There must have been some profoundly original mind which started the whole development on its course. Are we to assume that some creative thinker, whose name and whose memory have perished, is the genius behind the NT theology? Such a conclusion would indeed be an argumentum ex silentio.

There remains only one other possibility: the mind behind the NT reinterpretation of the OT theology of redemption was that of Jesus himself. Could any solution be more probable? It was the Lord himself who first suggested, as much by his deeds (signs) as by his words, the fundamental lines of the theology of the NT.

One gains the impression from reading the Gospels that the disciples were slow to understand what Jesus was trying to teach them during his historical ministry (e.g. Mark 4:40f.; 6:51f; 8:16-21; 9:32, etc.; cf. Luke 24:25; John 14:9, etc.), and that it was not until after the crucifixion and resurrection that the clues which he had left with them began to shape in their minds a coherent pattern. After the resurrection of Jesus they themselves were conscious that they were being guided by the Spirit of the living Lord into all the truth concerning him (John 16:12-15); the things which the historical Jesus had said to them were now brought vividly to their remembrance through the activity of the Holy Spirit in their midst, and now they understood their inner meaning (John 14:26).

This is the hypothesis upon which the argument of this volume is based, and it is our contention that it makes better sense of the NT evidence than does any other; its validity will be attested by its success or failure as a foundation for a coherent and soundly historical account of the theology of the apostolic Church.

Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament (SCM Press, 1969 ed.), pages 22 to 23.

The Road to Emmaus - 1

The loveliest thing about returning to church for Evensong last night was to hear Luke 24 read as the Second Lesson - the account of the Risen Jesus appearing to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, whose hearts burned within them as he explained the Scriptures, and who eventually knew him in the breaking of the bread.

For Passiontide meditation this year I read each day from "Life Through the Cross", by Marcus Loane, published in 1966, the year he became [Anglican] Archbishop of Sydney. (He died only last year, aged 97.) Sir Marcus did not set out to write an "original" commentary, or to break new ground in Biblical scholarship; his sole purpose was to beckon his readers' gaze to the Man of Sorrows who died for our salvation and rose to share his victory with us.

As always, Sir Marcus did it so movingly. A "literary hack" like me is reduced to wonder just by his turn of phrase. He was an artist who painted with the English language, a real wordsmith, precise and poetic at the same time. I loved hearing him preach. Indeed, I remember - as if it were yesterday - the sermon he gave at my Confirmation in 1964. An old fashioned evangelical, his dislike of Anglo-Catholicism failed to diminish his real fellowship with and respect for those individual Anglo-Catholics he felt loved the Lord and preached the Gospel.

At Evensong last night, I finished with a few remarks about the New Testament's way of re-interpreting the Old Testament, and then I read to the people this wonderful bird's eye view from Sir Marcus:

Luke proceeds with a brief reference to the speech that followed: "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself."' Cleopas must have remembered the words in which the Lord began with a clarity which time could not diminish, but he could not quote in detail all that ensued. It is enough to know the drift of that conversation; the journey was sweetened by a fascinating exposition of all that the prophets had spoken. The Son of Man had been saturated with the knowledge and the teaching of the Scriptures; He was at home in its language and its spirit as no other had ever been. He could quote from the law and the prophets with an insight and an application which amazed His hearers, and the last words He had uttered before He bowed His head to die had been words of Scripture. He had felt no hesitation in His reference to the words of prophecy and in His claim that they were now fulfilled before men's eyes (Luke 4:21). But there is no record apart from this momentous occasion of a sustained exposition of all that the Scriptures taught with regard to Him Who was the Christ. It was for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that He took the key of David and set out to unlock all the Messianic teaching in the Old Testament Revelation. He did for them what He was soon to do for their companions who were still in Jerusalem: "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day" (Luke 24:45, 46).

"He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." There were many fingers of a prophetic character which all pointed forward to the Christ that should come. He was the seed destined to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15; 1 John 3:8); He was the lamb God would provide as substitute and sacrifice (Genesis 22:8; John 1:29). He was the true Paschal victim whose blood would be shed for many (Exodus 12:13; Matthew 26:28); He was the great High Priest who would enter into the holy of holies once and for all (Leviticus 16:2; Hebrews 9:12). He was like the smitten rock from which there sprang a stream of living water (Numbers 20:11; John 7:38); He was like the brazen serpent that was lifted up for life and healing (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14). He was that star out of Jacob which shone as the herald of a new day (Numbers 24:17; Revelation 22:16); He was that great prophet whom God promised to raise up like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22). The Psalms had told how He would come to do the will of God (Psalm 40:7, 8; Hebrews 10: 7), and how the nails would pierce His hands and feet (Psalm 22:16; Matthew 27:35). The Prophecy of Isaiah had made it clear that He would bear our grief s and carry our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17), and that He would be led like a lamb to the place of slaughter (Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32). It was through Him that a fountain would be opened for sin and uncleanness (Zechariah 13:1; 1 John 1:7); it was in Him that the sun of righteousness would arise with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78). He was prefigured in the symbolic character of things like the pillar of cloud by day and the column of fire by night, the blood of sprinkling and smoke of sacrifice, the seamless veil and mercy seat; He was foreshadowed in the personal history of men such as Joseph and David, Jonah and Jeremiah, Daniel and Mordecai. There were indeed countless signposts to show that Christ was in all the Scriptures and that He was no other than Jesus of Nazareth.

This fact was so significant that it formed part of the apostolic witness from the outset: "Let all the house of Israel know that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). The Son of Man had been impregnable in His appeal to the testimony of the Scriptures; they were the rock on which He had taken His stand against all the storms of controversy. "Ye search the Scriptures," He said for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me: And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:39, 40). They sat in Moses' seat, yet they did not believe Him of Whom Moses wrote: "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me," He said; "for he wrote of me" (john 5:46). Men who knew the letter of the Law had no real insight into its truth, and could make no reply to His devastating criticism. Had they never read what Moses wrote? (Mark 12:26). Had they never read what David did? (Mark 2:25). Nothing is so final as the statement which He ascribed in parable to Abraham: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them" (Luke 16:29). But there was aplausible argument which was meant to turn the edge of these words: men would be more likely to repent if one were to visit them from the dead. Then He declared in words of absolute finality: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Thus a solemn appeal to the Scriptures bears out the claims of truth with the most far-reaching authority: "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43).

Thus a seeming stranger to the course of events in those days at Jerusalem passed from Moses to Malachi as He talked with them by the way and "opened . . . their understanding" (Luke 24:45) in the Scriptures. He showed them how the law and the prophets had all foretold that the Christ would suffer before He could conquer; then He showed them how all that they foretold had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.

- Life Through The Cross, M.L. Loane, 1966, Zondervan, Gran Rapids, Michigan, pages 240-242

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Sunday - The Difference it Makes

This is a preached in Easter 1972 by Metropolitan Anthony (1914-2003) of Sourozh, i.e. the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain & Ireland.

Christ is risen! When Christ first rose from the tomb and appeared to His disciples and the myrrh-bearing women, He greeted them with the word "Rejoice!". And then later when He appeared to the Apostles His first words were "Peace be unto you!"; peace, because their confusion was very great - the Lord had died. It seemed as though all hope had perished for the victory of God over human wickedness, for the victory of good over evil.

It would seem that life itself had been slain and light had faded. All that remained for the disciples who had believed in Christ, in life, in love, was to go on existing, for they could no longer live. Having tasted eternal life they were now condemned to expect cruel persecution and death at the hands of Christ's enemies.

"Peace be unto you", proclaimed Christ. "I have arisen, I am alive, I am with you, and henceforth nothing - neither death nor persecution - will ever separate us or deprive you of eternal life, the victory of God".

And then, having convinced them of His physical resurrection, having restored their peace and an unshakable certainty of faith, Christ uttered words which may in the present age sound menacing and frightening to many, "As the Father sent Me, so I send you".

Only a few hours after Christ's death on the cross, not long after the fearful night in Gethsemane, the betrayal by Judas when Christ had been taken by His enemies, condemned to death, led out beyond the city walls and died on the cross, these words sounded menacing. And it was only faith, the conquering certainty that Christ had risen, that God had conquered, that the Church had become an invincible force that transformed these words into words of hope and triumphant God-speed.

And the disciples went out to preach; nothing could stop them. Twelve men confronted the Roman empire. Twelve defenceless men, twelve men without legal rights were out to preach the simplest message, that divine love had entered the world and that they were willing to give their lives for the sake of this love, in order that others might believe and come to life, and that a new life might begin for others through their death. [I Cor. IV :9-13]

Death was indeed granted them; there is not a single apostle except St. John the Divine who did not die a martyr's death. Death was granted them, and persecution and suffering and a cross (II Cor. VI: 3-14).

But faith, faith in Christ, in God Incarnate, faith in Christ crucified and risen, faith in Christ who brought unquenchable love into the world, has triumphed. "Our faith which has conquered the world is the victory."

This preaching changed the attitude of man to man; every person became precious in the eyes of another. The destiny of the world was widened and deepened; it burst the bounds of earth and united earth to heaven.

And now we Christians, in the words of a western preacher, in the person of Jesus Christ, have become the people to whom God has committed the care of other people; that they should believe in themselves because God believes in us; that they should hope for all things because God puts His hope in us; that they should be able to carry our victorious faith through the furnace of horror, trials, hatred and persecution - that faith which has already conquered the world, in the faith in Christ, God crucified and risen.

So let us also stand up for this faith. Let us proclaim it fearlessly, let us teach it to our children, let us bring them to the sacraments of the Church which, even before they can understand it, unite them with God and plant eternal life in them.

All of us, sooner or later, will stand before the judgment of God and will have to answer whether we were able to love the whole world - believers and unbelievers, the good and the bad - with the sacrificial, crucified, all-conquering love with which God loves us. May the Lord give us invincible courage, triumphant faith, joyful love in order that the kingdom for which God became man should be established, that we should truly become godly, that our earth should indeed become heaven where love, triumphant love lives and reigns. Christ is risen!

METROPOLITAN ANTHONY OF SOUROZH was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1914. He spent his early childhood in Russia and Persia, his father being a member of the Russian Imperial Diplomatic Corps. His mother was the sister of Alexander Scriabin, the composer. During the Russian Revolution the family had to leave Persia, and in 1923 settled in Paris where the future Metropolitan was educated, graduating in physics, chemistry and biology, and taking his doctorate in medicine, at the University of Paris.

In 1939, before leaving for the front as a surgeon in the French army, he secretly professed monastic vows. He was tonsured and received the name of Anthony in 1943. During the occupation of France by the Germans he worked as a doctor and took part in the Anti-Fascist movement of the Resistance. After the war he continued practising as a physician until 1948, when he was ordained to the priesthood and sent to England to serve as Orthodox Chaplain of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. He was appointed vicar of the Russian patriarchal parish in London in 1950, consecrated as Bishop in 1957 and Archbishop in 1962, in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland. In 1963 he was appointed Exarch of the Moscow Patriarchate in Western Europe, and in 1966 was raised to the rank of Metropolitan. At his own request he was released in 1974 from the function of Exarch, in order to devote himself more fully to the pastoral needs of the growing flock of his Diocese and all who come to him seeking advice and help.

During the long years of Soviet rule, Metropolitan Anthony played an important part in keeping the faith alive in Russia through countless BBC World Service broadcasts. Perhaps still more important were the annual BBC broadcasts of the All-Night Paschal Vigil service at the London Cathedral. As Matins began, Metropolitan Anthony would emerge from behind the iconostasis to encourage the congregation, as they stood waiting in the dark, to speak up with their responses as this would be the only Paschal service that many in the Soviet Union would hear.

Beginning in the sixties, he was able to make occasional visits to Soviet Russia, where he not only preached in churches but spoke informally to hundreds of people who gathered in private apartments to meet him and engage in dialogue. Books based on his sermons were circulated in samizdat among Russian intellectuals until they could be openly published in the 1990s.

Metropolitan Anthony is Honoris Causa Divinity Doctor: of Aberdeen University 'for preaching the Word of God and renewing the spiritual life of this country'; of the Moscow Theological Academy for his theological, pastoral and preaching work; of Cambridge University; and of the Kiev Theological Academy. His first books on prayer and the spiritual life (
Living Prayer, Meditations on a Theme and God and Man) were published in England, and his texts are now widely published in Russia, both as books and in periodicals.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, died peacefully 4th August, 2003, at the age of 89.

Go HERE to a web site given over to his writings.