Saturday, August 31, 2013

St Aidan of Lindisfarne (d. 651)

St Aidan, possibly born in Connaught Ireland, was a monk at the monastery on the island of Iona in Scotland. Tradition states that his birth had been heralded by signs and omens, and he showed evidence of high intelligence and sincere devotion even as a small child.

During the days of the Roman Empire the Christian faith had spread into England, but due to the Empire’s decline, there was a growing resurgence of paganism, especially in the north. Oswald of Northumbria had been living at the Iona monastery as a king in exile since 616 AD and was converted to Christianity. In 634 he gained the crown of Northumbria, and was determined to bring the Christian faith to his mostly pagan people.

Due to his experience of Iona, he sought missionaries from there. At first the monastery sent a new bishop named Corman, but he returned to Iona, saying that the Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted. Aidan criticised Corman’s methods, and was sent as a replacement in 635.

Aidan chose the island of Lindisfarne, close to the royal castle at Bamburgh, as his headquarters. King Oswald, who spoke Irish Gaelic, often had to translate for Aidan and his monks, who did not speak English at first. When Oswald died in 642, Aidan received continued support from King Oswin of Deira, and the two became close friends.

An inspired missionary, St Aidan would walk from one village to another, chatting with the people he saw, slowly interesting them in the Gospel. According to legend, the king gave Aidan a horse so that he wouldn’t have to walk, but Aidan gave the horse to a beggar. By getting to know the people personally, and making them feel loved, Aidan and his monks slowly restored Christianity to the Northumbrian communities. Aidan also took in twelve English boys to train at the monastery, to ensure that the area’s future Christian ministry and leadership would be English.

In 651 a pagan army attacked Bamburgh and attempted to set its walls ablaze. According to legend, Aidan prayed for the city, after which the winds turned and blew the smoke and fire toward the enemy, making it impossible for their attack to continue.

Oswin of Deira was murdered in 651. Twelve days later Aidan died, on August 31, in the 17th year of his episcopacy. He had become ill while at the Bamburgh castle, and died leaning against the wall of the local church.

St Aidan’s expression of the Faith owed more to the the flavour and style of his native Celtic tradition than the contemporary Roman influence growing in the south of England. But his outstanding character, his Gospel teaching and his missionary zeal won for him the respect of Popes Honorius I and Felix I.

The monastery he founded grew and itself helped to found churches and other monasteries throughout the area. It also became a center of learning and a storehouse of scholarly knowledge. The Venerable Bede would later write Aidan’s hagiography and describe the miracles attributed to him. 

Here is a well known prayer of St Aidan:

Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
Make me an island, set apart,
alone with you, God, holy to you.

Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you.


O loving God, who called your servant Aidan from the peace of a Cloister to re-establish the Christian mission in northern England, and gave him the gifts of gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what you have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


The sun rising over the path to Holy Island, Lindisfarne 

St Aidan walked from Lindisfarne to Northumbria when the retreating tide opened a path to the shore.

Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is off the coast of Northumbria. As “the tide ebbs and flows,” Bede wrote, “the place is surrounded twice daily by the waves of the sea.” When the tide ebbed, a path of wet sand appeared, a pilgrim’s track that Aidan walked to the mainland, and visitors walked to the island. When the tide flowed back, the path disappeared. Seals swam in the breakers.

Three miles long and one mile wide, off the east coast of Britain, the island was close to Oswald’s court, yet remote. The monastic community was protected by the king, but independent of his politics. In the island’s peace they could practice the contemplative prayer of love that Jesus had practiced in rowboats and on top of mountains. On the windy island they built huts, an oratory, and a hall to teach students to read and write Latin, the language in which their books were written. Hand-bells rang through the roar of the surf.

Retreat though it was, the island was also a place to leave, as St Aidan did many times, in order to reach the people with the love of Christ.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Bishop Jack Iker's Pastoral Letter

As Bishop Jack Iker says below, "Patience and prayer are still required", but today's news from Texas is a great encouragement for all who have been praying for so long for the Diocese of Fort Worth and Bishop Iker. It is high time that "neutral principles of law" were used in determining the legal issues involved. May the Lord bless those long-suffering faithful Anglicans in Fort Worth!


Dear Friends in Christ,

We rejoice in today’s ruling by the Texas Supreme Court overturning the summary judgment in favor of The Episcopal Church. The Supreme Court ruled that the Trial Court erred in deferring to the TEC rather than subjecting TEC’s property claims to the same neutral principles of law that apply to everyone else. The Trial Court must now reconsider the merits of the case based upon neutral principles of law, and we are confident that we will prevail when TEC is subjected to neutral principles of Texas law. In sum, while today’s opinions are not a final victory, they indicate that a final victory is only a matter of time.
The decision in our case must be considered in the light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a related case, also announced today – that of the Church of the Good Shepherd, San Angelo.  Here too the Court reversed lower court opinions in favor of TEC and directed the trial court to decide that case based upon neutral principles of law, rather than deference to an hierarchical church.

Notably, in the Good Shepherd case the Supreme Court ruled that a not-for-profit corporation in Texas can change its articles of incorporation and bylaws, and that such revisions are secular matters, not ecclesiastical ones. The Corporation of our Diocese, which holds title to all our church property, is governed by Texas corporate law and has authority to control its own affairs without interference from TEC or other parties.  TEC’s argument – that its national officers can remove officers of a Texas corporation by decree – simply doesn’t comply with Texas law.

As you know, TEC’s claim to our local church property is based upon what is known as “the Dennis Canon.”  However, the Supreme Court has ruled that any trust that might have been created by the Dennis Cannon was revocable under Texas law. Our Diocese never acceded to the Dennis Cannon when it was formed, and our Diocesan Convention specifically revoked any such trust interest by TEC more than 20 years ago.  Today’s decisions effectively remove the Dennis Canon as a viable argument in Texas property disputes.

We wish to express our gratitude to the justices of the Supreme Court for the hard work that went into these two cases, as evidenced by the time it took them to reach a decision.  We also are deeply grateful for the counsel and guidance of our team of lawyers who are representing us in these legal proceedings – Scott Brister, Shelby Sharpe, and David Weaver. We thank them for their wisdom and expertise.

I am especially grateful to all of you, the clergy and laity of this Diocese, for your faithfulness and support during this trying period of time.  May God continue to bless you for your courage and steadfastness in the faith.  Patience and prayer are still required, but in the end, we will prevail.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
August 30, 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A great article on Rome

I know that today is St Augustine’s day, and after yesterday’s post on his mother, St Monica, you might have expected one on the great Bishop of Hippo. I was, in fact, going to write something on St Augustine when I came across an exciting article that I really must share with you. 

(If you want to, you can go HERE to an earlier blog post - from 2011 - on St Augustine and the grace of God.)

I love the city of Rome and its people. I’ve been there three times for study purposes. But I’ve also stayed there in hostel accommodation when I’ve hardly had more than a penny to my name (proving that it can be done!) just so as to keep exploring the amazing ruins and layers of culture and civilisation, more and more of which are opening up all the time. 

Well, if you like the study of history - and Roman history in particular - you will appreciate this article as much as I do. I know that I’ve said before that my favourite church in Rome is St Clemente. The photos of that church in the article are breathtaking. The beginning of the article follows. Go to the link to read the rest.


The new Mayor of the city of Rome, Ignazio Marino, just announced his intention to destroy one of the city’s central roads, the Via dei Fori Imperiali, and turn the area around the old Roman Forum into the world’s largest archaeological park. Reactions have ranged from commuters’ groans to declarations from classicists that this single act proves the nobility of the human species.

The road in question, running along the Forum

This curious range of reactions seems the perfect moment for me to discuss something I have intended to talk about for some time: the shape of the City of Rome itself. We all know the long, rich history of the Roman people, and the city’s importance as the center of an empire, and thereafter as the center of the memory of that empire, whose echo, long after its end, still so defines Western concepts of power, authority and peace. What I intend to discuss instead is the geographic city, and how its shape and layers grew gradually and constantly, shaped by famous events, but also by the centuries you won’t hear much about in a traditional history of the city. The different parts of Rome’s past left their fingerprints on the city’s shape in far more direct ways than one tends to realize, even from visiting and walking through the city. Rome’s past shows not only in her monuments and ruins, but in the very layout of the streets themselves. Going age by age, I will attempt to show how the city’s history and structure are one and the same, and how this real ancient city shows her past in a far more organic and structural way than what we tend invent when we concoct fictitious ancient capitals to populate fantasy worlds or imagined futures. (As a bonus to anyone who’s been to Rome, this will also tell you why it’s a particularly physically grueling city to visit, compared to, say, Florence or Paris.)

Sigmund Freud had a phobia of Rome. You can see it in his letters, and the many times he uses Rome as a simile or metaphor for psychological issues, both broadly and his own. He fretted for decades before finally making the visit.  Part of it was a cultural inferiority complex . . .

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The tears of St Monica

There are not many "realistic" representations of St Monica
This one is by John Nava (Go HERE for information)

So many people have to struggle against the odds, and not just in terms of projects attempted unsuccessfully or goals that prove to be illusive. Hardest of all is to cope with being surrounded by really difficult people - and in particular - living in the midst of a network of dysfunctional relationships.

Today in the Church's calendar is St Monica’s day. We know a little bit about Monica and the challenges she faced. How easy it would have been for her to have allowed her circumstances to turn her into a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent. In fact, she didn’t let herself become any of those things. She was a woman of great godliness, and that made her strong as well as loving.   

Monica had difficulties right from the start. Though she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa (in modern day Algeria). It is true that Patricius had some redeeming qualities. But he had a fierce temper and was extremely promiscuous. Monica also had to put up with a bad tempered mother-in-law who lived permanently in her home. Patricius criticised Monica constantly for her charity and Christian faith, although at another level it is clear that he respected her. 

In the end, through Monica’s prayers and the life she led, her husband became a Christian, and - even more remarkably - so did her mother-in-law. Patricius died in 371, one year after his baptism.

Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. Augustine, the eldest, is the famous one. At the time Patricius died, Augustine was 17 and studying rhetoric in Carthage. Monica was anguished to discover that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy and was living an immoral life. To start with, she wouldn’t let him eat or sleep in her house. But one night she had a vision in which she was assured that Augustine would return to the faith. She remained close to her son from that point on, praying for him with tears and fasting. (In fact, she was often closer than Augustine really wanted!)

In 383, when he was 29, Augustine - brilliant but still wayward - decided to teach rhetoric in Rome. Monica insisted on going. Clearly, Augustine wasn’t keen on this idea. So, one night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to farewell a friend. But instead, he got on a boat for Rome. The heartbroken Monica made up her mind to follow him. By the time she arrived in Rome, Augustine had left for Milan! In spite of the most difficult travelling conditions, Monica pursued him.

It was in Milan that Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. Monica accepted Ambrose’s advice in all things and demonstrated considerable humility in doing so. She became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.

Monica’s tearful prayers for Augustine persisted during the years he was learning the Faith. At Easter, 387, Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Monica then became ill and suffered severely for nine days before her death. She shared with Augustine a profound experience of God. According to Augustine, who recorded it in his “Confessions”, Monica said, “For myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here.”

She also said to Augustine and his brother Nagivius, “The only thing I ask of you both is that you make remembrance of me at the altar of the Lord wherever you are.”

St. Monica died at age 56, in the year 387. She has become the patron saint of all mothers who weep over their wayward children.

God, our heavenly Father,
you heard the supplication of your servant Monica 
when she cried to you in anguish and sorrow; 
teach us in all our asking
so to ask in your name
that our sorrow may be turned into joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Anamnesis - Some thoughts of Fr Robert Taft S.J.

The word “anamnesis” (“memorial”) means NOT “jogging the memory”, but - especially in the context of the Passover -  “bringing the past into the present.” Understanding this has been fruitful in drawing Christians of different traditions into closer agreement on the sacrificial dimensions of the Eucharist. The concept of “anamnesis” underlies, for example, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s 1971 Agreed Statement.   

Fr Robert Taft S.J., the foremost Catholic scholar of Byzantine Liturgy, helps us to appreciate what this is all about. He is always great to read, for - unlike some other scholars - his writings convey a sense of excitement and spiritual challenge. In his book Through Their Own Eyes: Liturgy as the Byzantines Saw It, he unfolds the experience of the Eastern Church’s liturgy down through the ages. Here are two short passages that give me pause for thought:

“. . . a liturgy rooted in the mystery of the Risen Christ not only symbolizes the heavenly reality; it also renders permanently active on earth whatever the Incarnate Word was and did. In other words, Byzantine Orthodox Christians base the realism of their liturgy on faith in the reality of the Risen Christ. Because the Risen Jesus is humanity glorified, he is present through his Spirit to every place and age not only as Saviour, but as saving; not only as Lord, but as priest and sacrifice and victim. This is because nothing in his being or action is ever past except the historical mode of its manifestation. Hence Jesus is not extraneous to the heavenly-earthly liturgy of the Church, but its first protagonist . . . The basis for liturgical anamnesis is not psychological recall but theophany, an active, faith encounter now with the present saving activity of Christ. For what Christ was and did, he still is and does; it is he who preaches the Word, he who calls us to himself, he who binds the wounds of our sin and washes us in the waters of salvation, he who feeds us with his own life, he who is the pillar of fire leading us across the horizon of our own salvation history, lighting our sin-darkened path . . . In this theology, church ritual constitutes not only a representation, but also a re-presentation - a rendering present again - of the earthly saving work of Christ.” (pages 138-140)


“In the present age of the Church, the divine grace is mediated out to those in the world from the divine abode and its worship, icon of the heavenly liturgy. In this dynamic, our worship rises to the throne of God from the earthly altar only to be returned to us as the heavenly gift of the Spirit.” (page 149)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Queenship of Mary . . . from a sermon of St Aelred of Rievaulx

Born in 1110, St Aelred died at Rievaulx (Yorkshire) in 1167. The son of a priest, he was educated at Durham and in the household of King David of Scotland. In 1134 he visited the newly-founded Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, and was so attracted to the place and its life that he chose to become a monk there, and was eventually elected abbot. He is remembered for his gift for friendship, for his sensitive and gentle rule, and for his enduringly popular spiritual writings. 

We owe her honour because she is the Mother of our Lord. Let us come to God’s bride, let us come to our Saviour’s mother, let us come to the best of God’s handmaidens. All of these descriptions fit Blessed Mary.

But what are we to do for her? What sort of gifts shall we offer her? 

But what are we to do for her? What sort of gifts shall we offer her? O that we might at least repay to her the debt we owe her! We owe her honour, we owe her devotion, we owe her love, we owe her praise. We owe her honour because she is the Mother of our Lord. He who does not honour the mother will without doubt dishonour the son. Besides, Scripture says: ‘Honour your father and your mother.’

What then shall we say, brethren? Is she not our mother? Certainly, brethren, she is in truth our mother. Through her we are born, not to the world but to God.

We all, as you believe and know, were in death, in the infirmity of old age, in darkness, in misery. In death because we had lost the Lord; in the infirmity of old age, because we were in corruption; in darkness because we had lost the light of wisdom, and so we had altogether perished.

But through Blessed Mary we all underwent a much better birth than through Eve, inasmuch as Christ was born of Mary. Instead of the infirmity of age we have regained youth, instead of corruption incorruption, instead of darkness light.

She is our mother, mother of our life, of our incorruption, of our light. The Apostle says of our Lord, ‘Whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification and redemption.

She therefore who is the mother of Christ is the mother of our wisdom, mother of our righteousness, mother of our sanctification, mother of our redemption. Therefore she is more our mother than the mother of our flesh. Better therefore is our birth which we derive from Mary, for from her is our holiness, our wisdom; our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption.

Scripture says, ‘Praise the Lord in his saints’. If our Lord is to be praised in those saints through whom he performs mighty works and miracles, how much more should he be praised in her in whom he fashioned himself, he who is wonderful beyond all wonder.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pray for Christians in Egypt - An Australian Coptic Commentary

As you go to church, remember those in Egypt who are suffering persecution. See the fortitude and faith of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and be inspired. The following report is from Cath News, Australia.

As the death toll from recent violent clashes in Egypt continues to climb with 556 now reported dead and thousands more injured Australia's Egyptian community remains in shock.

"We who stand for 80,000 Christian Egyptians in Australia are deeply saddened by events and the tragic loss of life in Egypt on Wednesday. No matter the difference in our political or religious stance, it is unacceptable to see such bloodshed and the destruction of public buildings and churches throughout Egypt," the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Australia, Bishop Anba Suriel and Bishop Daniel said in a joint statement this morning.

Egypt is under a state of emergency and facing a humanitarian disaster with security forces firing on protesters supporting deposed president Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Heavily armed police have opened fire on men, women and children in Cairo and regional centres.

Morsi's short time in power was marred by continuing unrest and deadly street clashes as well as economic turmoil. Millions took to the streets at the end of June calling for his removal. This was accomplished with a military coup in early July.

The interim military government then ordered a crackdown on demonstrators which has seen tear gas bombings and widespread sniper fire. The Muslim Brotherhood retaliated by urging Egyptians to take to the streets to denounce "the massacre". As a result nearly 50 Christian churches were destroyed along with monasteries, schools and hospitals.

Australian Foreign Affairs has said all Australians should leave Egypt as soon as possible and have also declared the trouble-torn country a no-go zone for visitors.

Meanwhile Australian Egyptians, many of whom have relatives in Cairo and surrounding areas are mourning what appears to be the collapse of the government and the violence. Some fear relatives may be among those killed in the street battles.

Tomorrow, Saturday 17 August an ecumenical service will be held at the St Mary & St Mina Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, Bexley at 1.30 pm to enable the Australian public, Christians of all denominations and Sydney's Coptic Christian community to pray as one for peace in Egypt.

In Melbourne a similar service to pray for peace, mourn the dead, reflect on the current atrocities in Egypt has also been organised, Bishop Suriel says. Tomorrow's prayers for Egypt and for Egypt's persecuted Coptic minority will be held at 9.00 am at Melbourne's St Paul's Cathedral. As with the Sydney liturgy, the public, those of all Christian denominations as well as Victoria's Coptic community are invited.

While the Bishop Suriel and Bishop Daniel are in deep mourning for the dead and thousands injured by the army and security forces, they have also condemned the barbarity and ferocity of attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood on Coptic Christians.

As the world focussed its attention on the atrocities and bloody events unfolding in Cairo on Wednesday, Islamic extremists went on a 12 hour rampage in cities and towns across the country, simultaneously destroying  Christian churches and setting fire to monasteries, schools, hospitals, Coptic homes, businesses, hotels and bookshops in cities.

Coptic Christians were also killed with many others assaulted and injured.

Nuns and priests were also attacked and a Christian pastor and his wife kidnapped.

"This was clearly a planned and systematic attack by Islamic terrorists against the Copts and their churches in Egypt, and is unprecedented in modern times," Bishop Suriel says.

Egypt's Copts have suffered increasing persecution from Islamic extremists over the past few years. Almost all of these have unchecked and been perpetrated openly in front of law offices in the knowledge there would be little danger of arrest or of being made accountable for these crimes include rape and murder.

But this week's 12 hour rampage against the Copts by Muslim Brotherhood supporters of outsted President Mohammed Morsi in towns and cities across Egypt is unparalleled in recent times both in the range and extent of the attacks as well as the ferocity of the destruction.

The unchecked violence against Egypt's Copts was further fuelled last week when al-Qaeda's Egyptian leader, Ayman Zawahiri accused Coptic Pope Tawadros II of conducting a "Crusade" to overthrow Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, claiming  spiritual leader of world's Copts intended to create a Coptic state in Egypt.

As the oldest ethnic group in Egypt, the Copts trace their history back to the days of the Pharaohs and in 50 AD became some of the world's first Christians. However making up just 10 percent of Egypt's 85 million predominantly Muslim population, and under their teaching as Christians dedicated to peace, the idea of Coptic overthrow should be greeted with incredulity. Instead it is being used to further inflame Islamic extremism and incite further attacks.

Portrayed by the Muslim Brotherhood as the instigator in Morsi's overthrow, Pope Tawadros has received numerous death threats and is at increasing risk of assassination.

"The Brotherhood has made serious threats against his life. Since 28 June, His Holiness has been forced to live in seclusion at his Papal residence in Cairo and unable to leave. Filthy language and graffiti has also been scrawled across the outside walls of the residence and he is unable to preside over Mass at the Cathedral for fears he will put the lives of his congregation in danger," Bishop Suriel says.

Muslim Brotherhood's systematic 12 hour rampage destroyed more than 47 churches across Egypt yesterday.

According to Bishop Suriel and Bishop Daniel, it is important the West understand that whatever the Muslim Brotherhood may claim, democracy is not a priority and what is seldom reported in the media in Australia is the fact that when in power Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-backed Government not only began to create what they hoped would eventually be an Islamic state, but appointed known terrorists to high-ranking positions in the Government.

Adel El Khayat, a member of the Islamic terrorist organization, Jamaar Islamiah and one of those  who was involved in the massacre of 67 tourists at Luxor in 1997 was appointed by Morsi to become governor of Luxor.

"There was outrage as well as alarm throughout Egypt when the appointment was announced and made Morsi and the Brotherhood's intentions clear," Bishop Suriel says

However Morsi's removal from office was sealed when 33 million signed a petition. This was many times the number of those who had voted for the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president a year before, and included the vast majority of Egypt's moderate Muslims and the millions who had fought for democracy and freedom during the so-called Arab spring.

The millions of Egyptians who called for Morsi to stand down followed news last November that Morsi  wrote Sharia law into Egypt's constitution. There was further alarm earlier this year when it became obvious he intended to impose Sunni ideology on the entire population, and to eventually create an Islamic state under strict Sharia law.

Founded 85 years ago in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned as a terrorist organisation in Egypt throughout deposed President Hosni Mubarak's long rule. Today the Muslim Brotherhood not only continues its strong links with terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah but has also forged strong ties with al-Qaeda.

This week al-Qaeda's distinctive black flag was hoisted above several of the destroyed churches including the ruins of the Coptic Church of St George in Sohag.

There are not only groups of Muslim Brotherhood fanatics in Australia but there are now fears of retaliation by these extremists against Australia's Coptic Christian community.

Egyptian-born Father Shenouda Mansour from the  St Antonius & St Paul Coptic Orthodox Church, Guilford recalls the terror threats against four of Sydney's Coptic churches in January 2011. The four Sydney churches were among 60 Coptic churches targeted worldwide by an unnamed Islamic extremist group. While the group was unnamed the threats were serious with the churches needing special protection, bomb squads being employed, police protection stepped up and celebrations for the Orthodox Christmas on 2011 cut short.

"Jihadist persecution of Christians is intensifying worldwide. Australia and Sydney are not immune," Fr Shenouda warns and says with Egypt's extremists claiming His Holiness Tawadros II is responsible for Morsi's overthrow Copts in Australia may be in danger.

"During this Holy Fast of St Mary we ask our Coptic communities across both dioceses to lift up their hearts in prayer and fasting and that the Lord Jesus Christ may bestow His peace upon Egypt and all who dwell therein," Bishop Suriel and Bishop Daniel said in their joint statement this morning and asked Christians everywhere to pray for peace and to pray for his homeland.

The death toll is climbing every hour in Egypt and although the official toll is said to be just over 500 the unofficial toll is claimed to be around 2000 with up to 10,000 injured.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Our Lady Mary's great day!

This is the richly decorated ceiling of SantarĂ©m Cathedral, Portugal, 
built in the 17th century and featuring 
the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Today is one of the truly GREAT days of the Church’s year. We celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary “our tainted nature’s solitary boast"(Wordsworth) coming to the end of her earthly life and being reunited with her Son, Jesus, sharing the completeness of his resurrection victory. 

In 1996 at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, we recorded our High Mass of the Assumption. Sadly, although we paid for professional expertise, the result was unusable because the microphones were too close to the organ pipes. The following year (1997) just before Mass began, as an afterthought I turned on my pocket dictation recorder and put it near a window well away from the organ. The result isn’t professional, and it’s scratchy in places. But not long ago I found the tape and converted it to digital format. It does capture the atmosphere of our celebration, and I’ve put a link to it below, mainly as a treat for those readers - now literally all over the world and in all sorts of churches - who were part of our parish community in those days. Enjoy a trip down Memory Lane! The Mass is sung to Schubert's "folk setting", his Deutsche Messe. You will hear the historic T.C. Lewis organ (before its restoration), as well as the stringed instruments. The readings and other inaudible parts of the recording have been edited out. I am the celebrant, David Barkla the organist and director of music, and Churchwarden Lorraine Hines reads the Prayers of the Faithful. Click on the link:

The following paragraph from the Preface for the Mass of Our Lady, Mother of Divine Hope, is a perfect reflection for today, as it so beautifully expresses the way we now see our relationship with the Lord’s Mother:

Mary, the fairest fruit of Christ’s redeeming love
is a sister to all the children of Adam
as they journey toward the fulness of  freedom
and raise their eyes to her,
the sign of sure hope and comfort,
until the day of the Lord dawns in glory.

In Mary Daughter of Sion, Lucien Deiss explains how Mary is a “prefiguration” of the Church:

There can be no doubt that the idea of divine protection is what John is evoking when he writes that the Woman flees into the wilderness unto her place. In her flight away from the serpent, the Woman does not wander about at random, but on the contrary, she seeks refuge in a safe haven, in the place that God has prepared for her. 

It is interesting to note that the verb to prepare is the one usually found in those texts which refer to the eschatological realities that God is making ready for the faithful. As a matter of fact, the expression to prepare a place, in the only other instance that it does occur in John, will be found in a similar context:

In my Father’s house there are many mansions. Were it not so, I should have told you, because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again, and I will take you to myself; that where I am, there you also may be.

These ideas manifestly recall what we read in the Apocalypse: Christ is returning to his Father, a reference, most certainly, to the mystery of his passion, resurrection, and ascension, namely, the very mystery of his own Exodus, his passage from this world to the Father.

Here again Mary is a prefiguration of the Church. The place in the wilderness that is prepared for the Church conjures up the image of the eternal dwelling-place into which she enters on the morning of her Assumption. 

In reascending to his Father, the Child was preparing a place for the disciples who make up Mary’s second posterity. Without waiting for the Day of the general resurrection, his mother is awarded her share in his destiny At the same time she is also the prefiguration of what in the normal course of events has been reserved for the end of the world, when the pilgrim Church will be assumed into the glory of the new Jerusalem. 

Mary stands in the vanguard of the Church on its march toward the kingdom. In her, the desert Church that is still battling against the Dragon has already reached the shore of eternity. In her, she already contemplates, in joy and peace, the eternal face of God.

And these words from Kairos Magazine, (Melbourne, Aust, Volume 20, Issue 14) express the same truth in a different way:

Our response to God has not been as whole-hearted as Mary’s, but we too, like her, have borne the Son of God in our hearts. We have received him in the gift of the Eucharist and we are the bearers of his promise that “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:54).

In celebrating Mary’s assumption into heaven we do not celebrate something which places Mary apart from us. Rather we celebrate something which places Mary among us as the first to receive the gift of salvation in all its fullness, a gift which the Lord also holds out to us. May this woman, given to us by Christ as our mother, be our companion on our journey of faith. May she, through her prayers and her presence in our lives, accompany us until we share with her the joy of salvation, body and soul, in the glory of heaven.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Beyond a Purpose-Driven Life - Fr Stephen Freeeman

Pentecost at St Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA

I don’t read many blogs. But one I keep an eye on is GLORY TO GOD FOR ALL THINGS by Fr Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox Priest under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America who serves as the Rector of St Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is the author of numerous published articles and the book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. He is also the author of the popular podcast, Glory to God, on Ancient Faith Radio.

I’ve referred to Father Stephen before on this blog. He is scriptural, patristic, sensible and unafraid to push the boundaries of thought. Even when I don’t agree with him - which is not often! - I’m grateful for his stimulus to my own thinking. I share with you here his latest blog entry. Oh that we could take on board what he says here before it is too late!

Americans are known to be "practical" people. Historically, our culture has seen problems, defined them, set goals and achieved results. Though the mechanics of this simple approach seem to have broken down over time, it is still a habit of thought. We like to plan. Businesses have retreats to develop goals and establish a vision. This practice has spread to the wider culture - even Churches have such vision retreats. It is a practice that seems reasonable. How can it be wrong to make plans and set goals?

There is a link between the present circumstance of anyone and the goals they set - and it is a link that is often overlooked or diminished. That link is the steps we take to accomplish any given goal. We desire the future - we desire a future good - and we take reasonable steps to bring it about. And it is in these steps that we lose God and the Kingdom.

The mental habit in which we focus on the end or goal of our actions is also the mental habit that makes us ignore the actions themselves. We may not consciously think that the end justifies the means, but focusing on the end makes us blind to the means, with frequently disastrous results. For in truth, we do not live at the end, but in the means to the end. Or, in proper theological terms, every moment is the end and not the means to something else.

In the Biblical story of the Fall, there is no mention of a desire for evil. Eve only perceives good things. The fruit is "good for food." It is "able to make one wise." It was "pleasant to look at." There is nothing wrong in such goals. The sin is found in the means. I am fascinated by certain revisionist Christian theologies that argue for Eve as a Promethean heroine, seizing the "fire" of wisdom from the gods. Such interpretations are straight from the pit - but so are our own utilitarian justifications.

Sin is found in the means - when we ignore them. But the Kingdom of God is found in the means as well. We are not the masters of history, responsible for its outcome. The outcome of all things is solely in the hands of God. To imagine ourselves to be in charge of outcomes is idolatry.

St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "You cannot achieve good by doing evil." Instead, he taught, "Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved."

The Spirit of Peace is not a goal towards which we strive - it is a gift found only in the present moment. If you are not at this moment acquiring the Spirit if Peace, then what are you doing and why? Do you have something more important to do?

We can acquire the Spirit of peace while doing other things, if we are actually present to what we are doing and are acting in communion with God. Indeed, there is no other way to acquire the Spirit of Peace.

If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1John 1:7).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The fully Christian life is a Eucharistic life . . . (Evelyn Underhill)

Mass at St Peter's London Docks, Wapping, London

. . . the fully Christian life is a Eucharistic life: that is, a natural life conformed to the pattern of Jesus, given in its wholeness to God, laid on His altar as a sacrifice of love, and consecrated, transformed by His inpouring life, to be used to give life and food to other souls. It will be, according to its measure and special call, adoring, declaratory, intercessory and redemptive: but always a vehicle of the Supernatural. The creative spirit of God is a redemptive and cherishing love; and it is as friends and fellow workers with the Spirit, tools of the Divine redemptive action that Christians are required to live. ‘You are the Body of Christ’, said Saint Augustine to his communicants. That is to say, in you and through you the method and work of the Incarnation must go forward. You are meant to incarnate in your lives the theme of your adoration. You are to be taken, consecrated, broken and made means of grace; vehicles of the Eternal Charity.

Thus every Christian communicant volunteers for translation into the supernatural order, and is self-offered for the supernatural purposes of God. The Liturgy leads us out towards Eternity, by way of the acts in which men express their need of God and relation to God. It commits every worshipper to the adventure of holiness, and has no meaning apart from this. In it the Church shows forth again and again her great objective; the hallowing of the whole created order and the restoration of all things in Christ. The Liturgy recapitulates all the essentials in this life of sanctification — to repent, to pray, to listen, to learn; and then to offer upon the altar of God, to intercede, to be transformed to the purposes of God, to be fed and maintained by the very life of God.

And though it is the voice of the Church, none the less in it is to be recognized the voice of each separate soul, and the care of the Praying Church for each separate soul. ‘Holy Things for the Holy!’, cries the celebrant in the earliest liturgies, as he lifts up the consecrated gifts. Not ‘Good Things for the Good’; but supernatural things for those imperfect creatures who have been baptized into the Supernatural, translated to another order — those looking towards God the Perfect and beginning to conceive of life as a response to God the Perfect; but unable without the ‘rich bread of Christ’ to actualize the state to which they are called.

- Evelyn Underhill, from The Mystery of Sacrifice

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Worship in the ruins

A friend emailed this amazing picture to me a few years ago. It shows High Mass being celebrated (apparently) in Germany during World War II. (Is there a reader out there who knows precisely where this is?) The church building had been bombed, but Jesus was still able to offer his sacrifice of love to the Father in that place because of the faithfulness of the people. 

At a different level, the picture never ceases to move my heart, because it more or less expresses how we experience Church today, and what it feels like to be a priest. Through our shortcomings and sinfulness, and as a result of the the liberal revisionists' calculated policies, the Church is a ruin as real as the one in the picture.  

The determination that, in spite of our pain and tears, the Gospel should be preached and lived, the people lovingly cared for, and the Lord worshipped in the beauty of holiness (and the holiness of beauty, if it can be managed!) are signs of the working of the Holy Spirit and manifestations of real faithfulness. 

Worship goes on today, not because we always feel like it, but because the Lord is worthy of glory and honour (Rev. 4:11), even in the midst of squalor and defeat. It is from where we are and not from where we would like to be that Jesus lovingly continues to sweep us up into his self-offering to the Father, sanctifying and blessing our little corner of the mess.

And HE has the last word!

Friday, August 9, 2013

From the Homily of Pope John Paul II for the Canonisation of St Teresa Benededicta, 11th October, 1998

The love of Christ was the fire that inflamed the life of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Long before she realized it, she was caught by this fire. At the beginning she devoted herself to freedom. For a long time Edith Stein was a seeker. Her mind never tired of searching and her heart always yearned for hope. She traveled the arduous path of philosophy with passionate enthusiasm. Eventually she was rewarded: she seized the truth. Or better: she was seized by it. Then she discovered that truth had a name: Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the incarnate Word was her One and All. Looking back as a Carmelite on this period of her life, she wrote to a Benedictine nun: “Whoever seeks the truth is seeking God, whether consciously or unconsciously”.

Although Edith Stein had been brought up religiously by her Jewish mother, at the age of 14 she “had consciously and deliberately stopped praying”. She wanted to rely exclusively on herself and was concerned to assert her freedom in making decisions about her life. At the end of a long journey, she came to the surprising realization: only those who commit themselves to the love of Christ become truly free.

This woman had to face the challenges of such a radically changing century as our own. Her experience is an example to us. The modern world boasts of the enticing door which says: everything is permitted. It ignores the narrow gate of discernment and renunciation. I am speaking especially to you, young Christians, particularly to the many altar servers who have come to Rome these days on pilgrimage: Pay attention! Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface, but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was able to understand that the love of Christ and human freedom are intertwined, because love and truth have an intrinsic relationship. The quest for truth and its expression in love did not seem at odds to her; on the contrary she realized that they call for one another.

In our time, truth is often mistaken for the opinion of the majority. In addition, there is a widespread belief that one should use the truth even against love or vice versa. But truth and love need each other. St Teresa Benedicta is a witness to this. The “martyr for love”, who gave her life for her friends, let no one surpass her in love. At the same time, with her whole being she sought the truth, of which she wrote: “No spiritual work comes into the world without great suffering. It always challenges the whole person”.

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie.

Finally, the new saint teaches us that love for Christ undergoes suffering. Whoever truly loves does not stop at the prospect of suffering: he accepts communion in suffering with the one he loves.

Aware of what her Jewish origins implied, Edith Stein spoke eloquently about them: “Beneath the Cross I understood the destiny of God’s People.... Indeed, today I know far better what it means to be the Lord’s bride under the sign of the Cross. But since it is a mystery, it can never be understood by reason alone”.

The mystery of the Cross gradually enveloped her whole life, spurring her to the point of making the supreme sacrifice. As a bride on the Cross, Sr Teresa Benedicta did not only write profound pages about the “science of the Cross”, but was thoroughly trained in the school of the Cross. Many of our contemporaries would like to silence the Cross. But nothing is more eloquent than the Cross when silenced! The true message of suffering is a lesson of love. Love makes suffering fruitful and suffering deepens love.

Through the experience of the Cross, Edith Stein was able to open the way to a new encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith and the Cross proved inseparable to her. Having matured in the school of the Cross, she found the roots to which the tree of her own life was attached. She understood that it was very important for her “to be a daughter of the chosen people and to belong to Christ not only spiritually, but also through blood”.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24).

Dear brothers and sisters, the divine Teacher spoke these words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. What he gave his chance but attentive listener we also find in the life of Edith Stein, in her “ascent of Mount Carmel”. The depth of the divine mystery became perceptible to her in the silence of contemplation. Gradually, throughout her life, as she grew in the knowledge of God, worshiping him in spirit and truth, she experienced ever more clearly her specific vocation to ascend the Cross with Christ, to embrace it with serenity and trust, to love it by following in the footsteps of her beloved Spouse: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is offered to us today as a model to inspire us and a protectress to call upon.

We give thanks to God for this gift. May the new saint be an example to us in our commitment to serve freedom, in our search for the truth. May her witness constantly strengthen the bridge of mutual understanding between Jews and Christians.