Monday, February 25, 2013

Canterbury to Alexandria - a new Deacon

Ordained Deacon

The Church has been in the news a great deal over the last month or so as speculation mounts regarding the future for Anglicans under new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. And then, as Lent was about to begin, there was the unexpected announcement of Pope Benedict’s retirement. And, of course, media interest in the fall-out following revelations of church related sexual sexual abuse (across the traditions) continues.

All of this goes on with scant attention to the growth being experienced by the Coptic Church. We tend to hear of our Coptic brothers and sisters only in the context of their persecution in Egypt, apart from the burst of publicity when Pope Shenouda died. In fact, they are permeating the world with their ancient-yet-modern living of the Faith. This is partly due to the diaspora of Egyptian Christians over the last forty years (I met my first Copts in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney in the mid 1970s); but it is also due to their evangelistic spirit which has given rise to a considerable movement of western people to their Church.

Jarrod Ryder was one of the young people who became part of All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, during my time as parish priest, and we have stayed in touch since those days. Following theological study, he embarked on a long spiritual journey which took him into the Coptic Church. Jarrod was recently ordained a Deacon, and named after Severus, a 5th/ 6th century  Patriarch. The ordination was done by Bishop Daniel of St Anthony's Monastery in Sydney, and took place on the site of a new monastery being built at Beudesert, just south of Brisbane. 

I asked Deacon Severus to write a reflection for this blog. This is what he has given me:

How can one put into words the immense journey of entering a Church with such venerable history and wonderful traditions as the Coptic Orthodox Church?  I’m afraid I cannot do it justice in blogging format, but then this is the essence of Orthodox Christianity.  It is absolutely, 100% an experience, from start to finish, where our minds, hearts and senses are lifted to contemplate the most Holy and Life Giving Trinity!  Ortho – Correct, true, straight and doxy from the Greek doxa meaning worship!  Correct worship! Therefore it can only be experienced truly in reality as it is a way of life, not merely a set of beliefs which is often misconstrued by those outside who only consider one part of it, being the creedal canonical elements.

In the divine liturgies of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the heart mind and senses are drawn to God, where one hears ancient, oriental chanting, incense abounds in copious clouds and you can tell roughly where the priest is up to from the carpark by the incense! When entering the Church one sees an array of icons, a large altar, an iconostasis, women on one side covering their hair with scarves, men on the other side praying as in the famous orans icon with shoes removed, and of course an army of chanters and deacons and a priest sporting a full beard completing various liturgical acts.  It is a very natural experience, completely unorganised in one sense unlike the well practised Roman liturgies with their precision, and yet it all seems to work very well with deep reverence.

You cannot but help to notice the age of the traditions and their apostolicity.  For example, the incense used in the church comes from a very precise formula prescribed in the books of Moses commended by the apostles.  Indeed, the notion of not wearing shoes dates back to the command of God to Moses before the burning bush, because nothing should come between us and the holy ground we walk upon, and let there be no doubt that the ground we walk on in the Orthodox sanctuary is holy!  In fact, considering incense, I read an article once speculating that frankincense is being depleted at a rapid rate and could run out.  When I mentioned it to a Coptic Father, his reply was, ‘Then Christ will return’!  Indeed, it is considered that the Divine Liturgy sustains creation in its relationship to God, until the final judgement.

The Divine Liturgy in use in the Coptic Church comes from St Mark, and we use editions by St Basil, St Gregory Nazianzus and St Cyril.  Actually, since the fourth century, there are really no changes and for a convert with a trained eye I really felt as though I was back in the fourth century! One venerable Metropolitan was with one of the monastic fathers in a busy airport, sporting his black robes and pectoral cross and Episcopal staff, and naturally everyone was staring at him.  He remarked to the monk, ‘Do you know why everyone is staring at us?’ To which he answered rhetorically, ‘It is because we are straight out of the fourth century.’ Indeed, nothing has really changed since then!  Apart from some wonderful Eucharistic fraction prayers, one post Chalcedon confessing the Oriental Orthodox Christology of my namesake St Severus of Antioch, it is in a sense an archaeological wonder!  

Yet you would be mistaken to consider it a museum.  Despite some of the pharaohonic tunes that have been Christianised (making its school of music one of the oldest, and with no notation as everything is learnt painstakingly by ear), despite its venerable patristic history, and despite its theology which we haven’t even mentioned yet, it is a true and living Church with the fresh action of the Holy Spirit breathing life into each generation who receives and passes on the traditions.  In this sense it is truly blessed.

In our era, a number of modern saints including the late Pope Kyrillos the VI, have revealed the way of monasticism in its true anchoritic form, and in their extreme humility have witnessed the outpouring of God’s grace on the entire Church.  The modern Coptic Orthodox Church claims a number of miracles, and this is due to the significance of its monasticism, which has experienced a huge revival in our era.  Monasteries are often full, they turn away prospective postulants, who often submit themselves to extreme acts of devotion to be accepted, and this wonderful spirituality flows through the Church.

Let there be no doubt then that Christendom itself is indebted to the early Coptic Popes and theologians for defending the true faith at pivotal moments of history.  The theological method of Alexandria inspired the greatest theologians, east and west, St Athanasius, St Cyril, the typology of Origen and St Diddymus the blind (inventor of Braille), which we see repeated and encouraged in the great Cappadocian fathers, and one of the most formidable exegetes of Rome, St Gregory the Great. 

Clearly, Christian monasticism finds its origins in the desert fathers of the Thebiad, St Anthony the Great, a whole plethora of mystics and the father of communal monasticism St Bakhomious.  In those early years flocks of wandering theologians and mystics travelled through Alexandria and the deserts, including St Jerome, and St Celestine an early Roman Pontiff (which is commemorated in the Coptic Synaxarium).

Perhaps now, you may begin to see how utterly impossible it would be for me to tap into an emotional, experiential reflection on such a journey, because it is in fact too deep.  In itself, this remains a mystery!  I will not discuss the reasons why I chose to leave my ethnic Church (Anglican) because although it was extremely difficult, I wanted to taste and feel my faith without concern for unbelieving and compromising leaders.  I remain indebted to the author and moderator of this blog, for planting good and true theological seeds in a young enthusiastic boy which have found their home in the Church of Alexandria.  His introduction to typology was enough for me to yearn for apostolicity, and my entrance into the Coptic Church is evidence of its Catholicity, its universal nature, unyielding, uncompromising, ever faithful despite the evils of persecution it now faces in its homeland. 

I was recently ordained to the deaconate as Severus, after the Bulgarian convert and Patriarch of the Syriac Church who was a major player in the late 5th early 6th century, and I certainly need his prayers in promoting a Church truly evangelical and truly Orthodox as a way of Christian life and alternative to ever increasing secular Australian society due to the multitude of my weaknesses.  We have a service to feed the poor and homeless in Brisbane, which St John Chrysostom considers a greater work than raising the dead, and I hope with the prayers of the saints the readers will ask Christ to increase it and bless it according to his abundant mercy.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pope Benedict's last Angelus Address

Pope John XXIII, began the now familiar custom of making an address from the window of his apartments overlooking St Peter’s Square every Sunday at noon. At at the end of the address, the Pope prays the Angelus. Here is Vatican Radio’s translation into English of Pope Benedict’s final Angelus address, given today:

Dear brothers and sisters!

On the second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy always presents us with the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The evangelist Luke places particular emphasis on the fact that Jesus was transfigured as he prayed: his is a profound experience of relationship with the Father during a sort of spiritual retreat that Jesus lives on a high mountain in the company of Peter, James and John , the three disciples always present in moments of divine manifestation of the Master (Luke 5:10, 8.51, 9.28).

The Lord, who shortly before had foretold his death and resurrection (9:22), offers his disciples a foretaste of his glory. And even in the Transfiguration, as in baptism, we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father, "This is my Son, the Chosen One listen to him" (9:35). 

The presence of Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, it is highly significant: the whole history of the Alliance is focused on Him, the Christ, who accomplishes a new "exodus" (9:31) , not to the promised land as in the time of Moses, but to Heaven. 

Peter’s words: "Master, it is good that we are here" (9.33) represents the impossible attempt to stop this mystical experience. St Augustine says: "[Peter] . . . on the mountain . . . had Christ as the food of the soul. Why should he come down to return to the labours and pains, while up there he was full of feelings of holy love for God that inspired in him a holy conduct? "(Sermon 78.3).

We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. "The Christian life - I wrote in my Message for Lent - consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love "(n. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to "climb the mountain", to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.

I offer a warm greeting to all the English-speaking visitors present for this Angelus prayer, especially the Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School. I thank everyone for the many expressions of gratitude, affection and closeness in prayer which I have received in these days. As we continue our Lenten journey towards Easter, may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the Redeemer, whose glory was revealed on the mount of the Transfiguration. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What on earth is happening to the Church?

A few thoughts following an unusual start to Lent:

I have always thought that Christians should strive to be “both/and” - rather than “either/or” - people as often as possible, resisting the temptation to define ourselves over and against others unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. And, of course, sometimes it is.

The problem for people and communities who are ALWAYS “both/and” is that they end up believing everything and nothing at once, as we see with the Church’s theological liberals. 

But just as wrong are those who are ALWAYS “either/or”. They end up believing that the only truth is the little bit they have stumbled across. They become pathologically judgmental and sectarian. 

We sing the carol, “Love came down at Christmas.” Love is generous and kind; it is open to “the other.” Jesus personifies love. If we take together the things he said and the things he did as indicating his heart, it is clear that he was generous, kind and welcoming. He taught, he gathered people, he reached out across social and political boundaries in order to touch broken lives with his healing love. On the cross he absorbed our woundedness and the consequences of our sin so that we might be free. His judgment was reserved, not for ordinary people whose lives had become tangled, but for the extreme “either/or” people - often to be found running the religious establishment - who spent all their time judging others.

Clearly, the Church - the entire Christian community - faces a huge credibility crisis at this moment in history, due partly to developments in secular society, and partly to the Church’s own lack of Christlikeness in a whole range of areas. All churches, unfortunately, are good at destroying people and crushing their spirits (and I mean churches of EVERY tradition!).  The terrible sexual abuse scandals are only the tip of the iceberg.

It is often the case that the most caring and pastoral clergy and lay people have a liberal and reductionist anti-supernatural view of Jesus, the Bible and the sacraments. It is also often the case that the clergy and lay people who are most “orthodox” in their beliefs are bereft of loving care and pastoral instinct. I don’t know why this should be. 

A lot has been said over the last few years about “Anglican Patrimony”. I suppose that in some respects we might apply that phrase to the culture of our worship, and to our tradition of theological scholarship. To me, however, one of the most beautiful aspects of “Anglican Patrimony” is the way in which - certainly among Anglo-Catholics - rock-solid orthodoxy of belief, and loving, caring sacrificial pastoral instincts have co-existed without polarisation. 

There are many issues to be faced by the Church in the years to come. A lot of clear thinking, examination of heart, and spiritual renewal needs to happen. Questions need to be asked about structures and authority. Right now, as we welcome a new Archbishop of Canterbury, and - very soon - a new Pope, we need to rededicate ourselves to living in Christlikeness and grace, sharing the Gospel of Jesus with those around us, and teaching the Faith in its fulness. We focus on Jesus, in whom God is loving the world back to himself, and we think of Jesus’ words to the apostles when he breathed the gift of the Spirit into them: “As the Father sent me, so send I you.”


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Patriarch Bartholomew on Pope Benedict’s retirement

The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, cooperated closely with Pope Benedict over the years, issuing joint statements on contemporary problems facing humanity and realizing official exchange visits, but above all resuming in 2007 the conversations of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches (established in 1980 and interrupted in 2000).

This is the statement made by Patriarch Bartholomew on the announcement of Pope Benedict’s retirement:

It is with regret that we have learned of the decision by His Holiness Pope Benedict to retire from his Throne, because with his wisdom and experience he could have provided much more to the Church and the world.

Pope Benedict leaves an indelible mark on the life and history of the Roman Catholic Church, sealed not only by his brief papacy, but also by his broad and longstanding contribution as a theologian and hierarch of his Church, as well as his universally acknowledged prestige.

His writings will long speak of his deep theological understanding, through his knowledge of the Fathers of the undivided Church, his familiarity with contemporary reality, and his keen interest in the problems of humankind.

We Orthodox will always honour him as a friend of our Church and a faithful servant of the sacred proposition for the union of all. Moreover, we shall rejoice upon learning of his sound health and the productivity of his theological work.

Personally, we remember with emotion his visit to the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate over six years ago, together with the numerous encounters and excellent cooperation, which we enjoyed throughout the duration of his primatial ministry.

From the Phanar, we pray that the Lord will manifest his worthy successor as the head of the sister Church of Rome, and that we may also continue with this successor on our common journey toward the unity of all unto the glory of God.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Keeping a Devout and Holy Lent . . . by Bishop Jack Iker

One of the contemporary heroes of orthodoxy among Anglican leaders is the Rt Rev’d Jack Iker, Third Bishop of Fort Worth. We continue to pray for Bishop Iker and his diocese as they witness to the Gospel and the Faith once delivered to the saints. The following is his Ash Wednesday message, released this morning: 

Today we begin a spiritual journey together called Lent. It is a pilgrimage that we will pursue for the next six weeks. It begins in ashes and penitence; it will end in alleluias and Easter joy.  It begins with a somber reminder of our mortality; it will end with a joyous celebration of our immortality in Jesus Christ. Ash Wednesday reminds us of what we deserve in our sinfulness – judgment and death. Easter reminds us of God’s gracious gift to us in Jesus Christ – forgiveness and new life in Him.

As with any journey, there is a certain amount of uncertainty about what lies ahead. None of us can know for certain what we must undergo in the weeks ahead – what temptations or tragedies we must endure, or what challenges and opportunities await us. Life is unpredictable and fragile.  Sometimes the journey becomes dangerous and difficult in unexpected ways.

In our Christian pilgrimage, Lent reminds us that we must choose many times a day. Life involves continual decisions and choices, which determine which way we will go. We must make decisions every day about what we will do and about what we will not do. We must do the right thing, and we must avoid the wrong thing. The path we choose in the days ahead, in little things and in great things, will either lead us closer to God or more distant from Him.

To strengthen and guide us in what lies ahead, the Church calls upon each of us to adopt a Lenten Rule of Life – a discipline we will live by for the next six weeks. It will help us keep a devout and holy Lent. It involves taking on certain specific things and giving up certain other things in order to strengthen our will power, to co-operate with God’s power. It is a choice to simplify our lives and to pursue such things on a day to day basis, which, in the end, will bring us closer to God and to His will for our lives.

As with any journey, we will need food and drink to nourish and sustain us along the way. So a Lenten Rule may involve receiving Holy Communion more often than usual, perhaps coming to a weekday Communion service in addition to our Sunday worship. Surely we will want to read and study the Holy Scriptures more diligently than usual, feeding daily on God’s Word as our daily bread. Surely we will want to practice the three spiritual disciplines which Jesus himself practiced and commended to His disciples – fasting, prayer and almsgiving. All these things will help us and guide us in our Lenten journey.

Lord, give us the gift of holy discipline this Lent, that by your grace, we may do those things we ought to do and avoid those things that are harmful to us and our relationship with you. Save us from all wrong choices, and enable us by your Spirit to please you in word and deed, through Jesus Christ who saves us. Amen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The (new) Archbishop of Canterbury's tribute to Pope Benedict

The confirmation of the new Archbishop of Canterbury’s election took place at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on 4th February. Here is Archbishop Welby’s tribute to the ministry of Pope Benedict:

It was with a heavy heart but complete understanding that we learned this morning of Pope Benedict’s declaration of his decision to lay down the burden of ministry as Bishop of Rome, an office which he has held with great dignity, insight and courage. As I prepare to take up office I speak not only for myself, and my predecessors as Archbishop, but for Anglicans around the world, in giving thanks to God for a priestly life utterly dedicated, in word and deed, in prayer and in costly service, to following Christ. He has laid before us something of the meaning of the Petrine ministry of building up the people of God to full maturity.

In his visit to the United Kingdom, Pope Benedict showed us all something of what the vocation of the See of Rome can mean in practice – a witness to the universal scope of the gospel and a messenger of hope at a time when Christian faith is being called into question. In his teaching and writing he has brought a remarkable and creative theological mind to bear on the issues of the day. We who belong to other Christian families gladly acknowledge the importance of this witness and join with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in thanking God for the inspiration and challenge of Pope Benedict’s ministry.

We pray that God will bless him profoundly in retirement with health and peace of mind and heart, and we entrust to the Holy Spirit those who have a responsibility to elect his successor.

+ Justin Cantuar

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict to retire at the end of this month

This is the statement made by Pope Benedict XVI an hour and a half ago:

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.

However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects.

And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer. 

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013 


Friday, February 8, 2013

According to Jesus, our prayers should include penitence

The best known Christian prayer is the “Lord’s Prayer”, the “Our Father.” It is used at funerals, weddings, the opening of Parliament, and in just about every church service in the catholic family of Churches.

It is a beautiful prayer as it stands - it is balanced, and sums up everything that needs to be said when we come before our Father God, and we are right to use it just as it stands. Notice, however, that, according to Matthew 6:9, Jesus gave it to us as a PATTERN of prayer. The disciples had asked him, “Teach us to pray.” He replied, “Pray then like this“, meaning, “after this manner.” The prayer follows, and it includes the petition:

“forgive us our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us.”

In other words, Jesus expects that when we pray we will be penitential some of the time, admitting and confessing our sins.  

We may not be aware of what we consider a particularly vile sin or even an overly rebellious attitude towards God. But we all have areas of life that fall short of what they should be. A time of honest self examination will reveal to us our selfishness and our failure to love, especially in neglecting others, saying unkind or angry things, and harbouring judgmental and hurtful attitudes which, if left unchecked, can poison us on the inside. Without realising it, by neglecting penitence we can actually be working against what God is trying to do in the lives of those around us, and in our own lives as well. 

So, when we pause to reflect on these things in the penitential rite at Mass or as part of our daily self-examination, we give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to shine the light of his truth into our hearts. He shows us our sins, and we confess them so as to receive forgiveness, healing and cleansing, which in his love he is eager to give us.

Following the teaching of Jesus, our regular times of prayer - just like the public worship of our Church communities - should include self examination and penitence.

It is a good idea to take a bit more time about this on Fridays, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Many people find it helpful, after their self-examination, to pray Psalm 51 as a “confession prayer.”

Of course, Lent, which begins this coming Wednesday, is a time when - in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in Christ  - we examine our hearts, our relationships, and our our response to God’s love, as we seek renewal and healing. 

The special sacrament of forgiveness we have for dealing with sins of a serious nature (the “Sacrament of Reconciliation”), is a wonderful ministry of Jesus in which we confess our sins and allow his forgiving, healing love to touch those particular areas of our lives.The Church encourages us all to use this sacrament as Easter approaches, and to prepare ourselves for it during Lent.

Over the years, I have discovered a great number of Anglicans who would dearly like to “go to confession” (as we used to call this sacrament) but who are prevented by the fear of the unknown. Some even hold back because they feel embarrassed about not having been before. If that’s you, contact a priest straight away. All you will find is acceptance, a warm welcome, and help in getting closer to the Lord as you draw on his forgiveness and healing for your life. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Michael Ramsey on Christian Unity (3)

This is the final passage in our series from Chapter 4 (“The Meaning of Unity”) of Michael Ramsey’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church

(3) Yet the New Testament leads us still more deeply into the meaning of unity. It takes us behind the one race and behind the historical events to the Divine Unity from which they spring. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6). The unity that comes to men through the Cross is the eternal unity of God Himself; a unity of love that transcends human utterance and human understanding.

“Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are.” (John 17:11)

“Neither for these only do l pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:20-22)

“That they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me; For thou lovest me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

Before and behind the historical events there is the unity of the one God. This unity overcomes men and apprehends them through the Cross. “It does not mean that there is a calculable number of men who are at peace with themselves; it means that the oneness of God triumphs over the whole questionableness of the Church’s history.” ###  Unity is God’s alone, and in Him alone can anything on earth be said to be united.

In these ways the New Testament unfolds the secret of the Church’s unity: 

(1) Christ’s people are the ekklesia, the one race precedes its various parts.  

(2) The people are united in the historical events of Jesus in the flesh.  

(3) Behind the people and the events there is the eternal unity of God. Thus the inward and the outward are inseparable, and the Church’s inward meaning is expressed in the Church’s outward shape and structure as the ekklesia wherein the parts depend upon the whole.

### Karl Bath, Romans, English Translation., page 396

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Michael Ramsey on Christian Unity (2)

Archbishop Michael Ramsey paid a “solemn visit” to Pope Paul VI on 23 March 1966. The above is a photograph of his reception in the Sistine Chapel. On 24 March 1966, a Common Declaration was signed by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop in a ceremony held at the Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls. 

Here is another passage from Chapter 4 (“The Meaning of Unity”) of Michael Ramsey’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church:

We must investigate the nature of this unity, and ask what is its relation to the Gospel.

[1] The meaning of unity is seen first of all in the word ekklesia, which our English Bible translates “church,” In the Greek Bible from the book of Deuteronomy onward, ekklesia is the normal rendering of the Hebrew quahal, the congregation of lsrael. Hence the use of the word by the Christian communities is striking; in many cities of the dispersion the Christians have been banished from the synagogues, and yet (no reader of the Septuagint could fail to see the audacious claim involved) they are themselves the ekklesia of God. To them belong the promises and privileges of the Israel of God, and their unity is a unity of race. This race, drawn from Jews and Gentiles and yet one race in Christ, is formed in many local communities, and the important question arises: What is the relation between the local communities and the whole race? The word ekklesia is used in the New Testament both for the local community and for the race as a whole, and except in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the former use is far more frequent. Does it then follow that the local community is primary, and the important starting point? No, for the very word ekklesia forbids us to think of any merely local community; the ekklesia in a place is the one race as existing in that place, e.g., the ekklesia of Corinth is the one called-out-race of God that exists in Corinth, as in many other places. The one race exists first, precedes the local ekklesia, and is represented by it. This fact was well put by P. T. Forsyth:

The total Church was not made up by adding the local churches together, but the local church was a church through representing then and there the total Church ... It was one Church in many manifestations; it was not many churches in one convention... The great Church is not the agglutination of local churches, but their prius; . . . the local church was not a church, but the Church ... the totality of all Christians flowing to a certain spot, and emerging there. ##

Thus the use of the word ekklesia in itself tells us an important truth about unity. The one universal Church is primary, the local society expresses the life and unity of the whole.

(2) Behind this unity of the one race there stand the historic events that created it, and the unity is seen to be in a real sense a sharing in those events. The word translated “fellowship” is applied to a number of aspects of unity: to the common life of the primitive Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42); to the collection for the saints (2 Corinthians 9:13); to the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:16}; to the sharing of the Christians in the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1; to sharing in Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10; to union with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3). But this wide and deep and many-sided unity is made possible only by a real contact with the historical events:

That which we have seen and heard (i.e. the historical Incarnation) declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world (i.e., the historical event) that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Fellowship is essentially fellowship with the historical events. No book in the New Testament is more emphatic in its teaching about the fellowship and love of the brotherhood than the First Epistle of St John; and no book is more insistent that fellowship springs from and bears witness to the events of Jesus in the Flesh. The events created the Fellowship and the fellowship mysteriously shares in the events.

Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

The unity is between men who, dying to themselves, give glory to the one historic redemption and are drawn into it in one Body. The Eucharist is a sharing in the body and the blood of Christ, and the means whereby the Christians are “one bread one body” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), only because it brings them very near to His actual death in the flesh (1 Corinthians 11:26)

##  Forsyth, Lectures on the Church and Sacraments, p.40

Monday, February 4, 2013

Michael Ramsey on Christian Unity (1)

One particular book of great influence in the 20th Century was The Gospel and the Catholic Church by Michael Ramsey, published in 1936. It is still worth reading. By means of this book, and from within a truly Catholic vision, Ramsey - who went on to become the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury - enabled Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Christians to understand more of each other. A theological work, The Gospel and the Catholic Church is utterly Biblical and Patristic, but Ramsey’s typical style, disarmingly simple and therefore accessible to the specialist and non-specialist alike. 

This is the first post from Chapter 4 (“The Meaning of Unity”) of Michael Ramsey’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church:

In showing us the Christ the New Testament has taken us beyond His historical life and death into a region as hard to define as it is real to Christian experience. This region is described when the writer of Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and when St. Paul says, “Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20). 

In this region of thought the word mystical at once suggests itself, and it is a word that has often been used to describe that union of the Christian with his Lord that is as real as was the union of the disciples in the days of His flesh. But in this region there lurks a subtle danger, since in it there is the temptation for a Christian to cling to the immediacy of his own experience of Christ, and so, in the very midst of the Body of Christ, to be ensnared into an individualism and self-satisfaction that belie the truth about the one Body. Against this danger the New Testament asserts two important safeguards: (1) the importance of the historical events of the life and death of Jesus in the flesh, and (2) the importance, to the individual member or group, of realizing that the one Body existed before his own conversion and has one continuous historic life in which he is called to share.

(1) United with Christ as they are, the Christians will not interpret aright their present union with Him unless they constantly look back to the events whence it has sprung, and remember that these events, wrought once for all, are the source of everything that the Christians are and have and know. They are called upon not to advertise their own “experiences” but to praise God for, and to bear witness to, the historical events wherein the Name and the Glory of God were uttered in human flesh. The faithful Christian will not draw attention to himself as an interesting specimen of life in Christ, but dying to all interest in himself and his “experiences” he will focus attention upon the redeeming acts of Christ in history, as the centre of man’s prayers and praises for all time. In other words, the Church is Apostolic; it looks back to the deeds of Jesus in the flesh, and through these deeds it has been “sent” into the world.

(2) From the deeds of Jesus in the flesh there springs a society that is one in its continuous life. Many kinds of fellowship in diverse places and manners are created by the Spirit of Jesus, but they all depend upon the one life. Thus each group of Christians will learn its utter dependence upon the whole Body. It will indeed be aware of its own immediate union with Christ, but it will see this experience as a part of the one life of the one family in every age and place. By its dependence upon the Church of history it will die to self-consciousness and self-satisfaction. And as with the group, so with the individual Christian; he will know his dependence upon the other members of the Body, wherein the relation of member to member and of function to function begets humility and love. The gifts that he possesses belong to the Body, and are useful only in the Body’s common life. Thus through membership he dies to self-sufficing, and knows that his life in Christ exists only as a life in which all the members share.

In these two ways the Christians will forget themselves and bear witness to the redemption wrought once for all and to the society in which men die and rise.# In later language the Church is called “Apostolic” (sent by the one Redeemer in the flesh) and “Catholic” (living one universal life); and both these notes of the Church are essential to its existence as expressing the Lord’s death and resurrection, wherein its “Holiness” consists. By his place in the Body the Christian finds the Gospel of death and resurrection active around and through him. To “believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” is to die to self.

# These points are illustrated by St Paul's life and writings. It is impossible to belittle his own special experiences and the independence which he claims in loyalty to them (Galatans 1:1, 16-17; 2:11; 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, etc.). Yet he knows that these things would betray him, were it not for his sense of debt to the older Apostles as witnesses to the Flesh of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-8); and (b) his sense of the Church’s continuity from them (1 Corinthians 1:1-2; 14:36; Ephesians 2:20).