Saturday, August 30, 2014

The wonder of the Eucharist

"Behold, the Lamb of God . . ."
May 2008 at St Stephen's Coomera, Quseensland

Be pleased, O Lord, to accept this our bounden duty and service, and command that the prayers and supplications, together with the remembrance of Christ’s passion, which we now offer unto thee, may be received into thy heavenly Tabernacle; and that thou, not weighing our own merits, but looking upon the blessed sacrifice of our Saviour, which was once fully and perfectly made for us all, mayest pardon our offences, and replenish us with thy grace and heavenly benediction, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

- John Cosin (1594-1672)

* * * * * * * * * *

Evelyn Underhill defines Christian worship as ‘the total adoring response of man to the one eternal God self-revealed in time.’ This response is seen perfectly in Christ: ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God’ (Hebrews 10:5-9). The whole life of our Lord Jesus Christ is an act of worship: his obedience, his ministry, his self-offering on Calvary. We can also say that it is a liturgical act of worship which is expressly articulated in the words of Jesus’ High-Priestly prayer in John 17:1-5.

‘In Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:17) we enter the stream of obedience, devotion and love flowing from the Son to his Father. Therefore true worship is union with our Lord in the Holy Spirit, identifying ourselves with the Perfect Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which is why the Eucharist will always be the most perfect form of worship.”

- Frank Lomax (1921-2007), in Worship and Liturgy (Lecture, Trinity Theological College, Singapore)

* * * * * * * * * *

The Eucharist is the completion of all the sacraments, and not simply one of them . . . All human striving reaches here its ultimate goal. For in this sacrament we attain God himself, and God himself is made one with us in the most perfect of all unions . . . This is the final mystery; beyond this it is not possible to go, nor can anything be added to it.

- St Nicholas Cabasilas (1320-1371), quoted in The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware, p. 116

* * * * * * * * * *

The eternal liturgy . . . is the work of Jesus our Great High Priest, offering himself in and through his Church to the Father in the union of the Holy Spirit. ‘Through him, with him, in him . . .’ At the end of the eucharistic prayer, the priest raises the Host and Chalice together, and the self-giving or oblation of the whole Church is represented, taken up into the sacrificial self-giving love of the Blessed Trinity. The whole assembly responds with the great ‘Amen!’, the resounding ‘Yes!’ of the faith of a priestly people.”

- Peter Elliott, in Priest, Sacrifice and Eucharist, 2001

* * * * * * * * * *

The Eucharist is “surrounded by temporal ripples through which past and future things are refracted.”

- Robert Sokolowski (1936-), in Eucharistic Presence: A Study in the Theology of Disclosure, p. 105

* * * * * * * * * *

“. . . the whole of Christian worship is focussed upon an altar where there is perpetually set forth the redemptive offering of pure love; and in that eternal offering, all other movements of love and sacrifice are sanctified before God.”

- Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), in Worship, p. 149

* * * * * * * * * *

Christ was the Word that spake it;
He took the bread and break it;
And what that Word did make it;
That I believe and take it.

- Attributed to Queen Elizabeth 1 (1533-1603)

* * * * * * * * * *

Above, the hosts of angels sing praise; below, men form choirs in the churches and imitate them by singing the same doxology. Above, the seraphim cry out in the thrice-holy hymn; below, the human throng sends up the same cry. The inhabitants of heaven and earth are brought together in a common assembly; there is one thanksgiving, one shout of delight, one joyful chorus.”

- St John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), in his Homily on Isaiah 6:1

* * * * * * * * * *

In the bread of the Eucharist 
and the cup of blessing 
Christ’s presence is revealed at its most intense. 
Let your life be permeated 
with a tremendous reverence 
towards this mystery of faith. 
Your adoration needs no justification 
more than your love and wonder 
for the infinite, delicate grandeur of God, 
the unfathomable depths of Christ’s gifts. 
Let his praise not depart from your lips . . .

The Eucharist sets you on the way of Christ.
It takes you into his redeeming death
and gives you a share
in the most radical deliverance possible.
And already the light of the resurrection,
the new creation,
is streaming through it from beyond.
Whenever you sit at table with the risen Lord,
it is the first day of the week,
very early in the morning.

- H. Van Der Looy in Rule for a New Brother

Thursday, August 28, 2014

St Augustine and amazing grace

Many places associated with St Augustine either no longer exist or cannot be identified with certainty. One of the possible exceptions, however, is the place of his baptism, which can still be visited today. This is a photograph of the ancient baptistry underneath the present day cathedral (duomo) of Milan, Italy. The cathedral is built on top of earlier churches, and the baptistry shown here is a sub-basement. There is very little doubt that it is the place of Augustine's baptism.

Today is the feast day of that great theologian of grace, St Augustine of Hippo. He defended the authentic Christian understanding of grace against those who thought that our attempts at goodness just needed "topping up" by God. Augustine's individual search, his experience of the worshipping, learning, discipling community gathered around St Ambrose in Milan, as well as his own reflection on the Scriptures assured him of our total reliance on God's grace for salvation.

Augustine was born in 354 AD in what is now Algeria. Even in his youth he was well known as a skilful teacher and debater. In fact it was his pride as an up and coming philosopher - and his intellectual snobbery - that caused him to reject the Christian faith of his mother and indulge himself in a lifestyle of colourful immorality. He eventually fathered a child outside marriage.

As unlikely as it may seem, given his early life, this man was chosen by God to become one of the greatest Christian teachers of all time.

You can read the story of his conversion in The Confessions of St Augustine - available in a number of translations. (online HERE, although I prefer Henry Chadwick's 1998 translation . . . Chadick calls the Confessions "that prose-poem addressed to God.") It is a thrilling story of God's grace at work in Augustine's life.

The values of the world in which Augustine lived, and the variety of religious philosophies on offer, makes his age uncannily like our own. In order to indicate the interplay of what was happening with Augustine's heart and soul with his being drawn into the worshipping community, I share with you five factors that led to and sustained his Christian experience:

First, his mother Monica never ceased to encourage and pray for him. St Monica is the patron saint of all those mothers who pray with tears for their wayward children. Later on, Augustine never doubted that his mother's faithfulness was the most important factor in his conversion.

Second, Augustine was genuine in his search for truth and wisdom. He loved the writings of Cicero and the Platonists, and even his seduction by the cultic Manichaeans was partly due to his seeking of "higher things." (Actually, he says that his breakthrough, philosophically, came when, to use his own words, "I no longer wished for a better world, because I was thinking of the whole of creation, and in the light of this clearer discernment I have come to see that, though the higher things are better than the lower, the sum of all creation is better than the higher things alone.") 

Third, Augustine experienced a growing sense of emptiness, futility and dissatisfaction with his life. His goals seemed to be eluding him and neither his learning nor his lifestyle brought the fulfilment he sought.

Fourth, at Milan, the teaching of St Ambrose changed Augustine's attitude towards the Scriptures, awakening both his mind and his heart. (Even so, he had a three year struggle before surrendering his life to the Lord.) Augustine writes:

". . . slowly I saw that what Ambrose taught was the truth. My trouble was that I wanted to be able to understand every part of the truth myself, as clearly as I see that two and two are four. As if a mere man can understand everything about you, my God, who are infinite and eternal Truth. Then you began to enlighten my mind. I saw that a man cannot discover all the truth about you by reason alone. It is necessary that you reveal yourself to us. And you had done so in your Bible, and above all when you spoke to us through your beloved Son, Jesus."

Fifth - and sometimes overlooked -, the worshipping life of the Church community in Milan had a profound impact on Augustine. During his struggle of faith he was supported by the community's prayers. At the time of his baptism he was touched by the community's worship. He writes:

"We were baptized [i.e. at the Easter Vigil, 24 April 387], and disquiet about our past life vanished from us. During those days I found an insatiable and amazing delight in considering the profundity of your purpose in the salvation of the human race. How I wept during your hymns and songs! I was deeply moved by the music of the sweet chants of your Church. The sounds flowed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart. This caused the feelings of devotion to overflow. Tears ran, and it was good for me to have that experience."

Augustine eventually returned to Northern Africa where he became a priest and then Bishop of Hippo. His most famous books are The Confessions and City of God; but all his writings have been influential in the Church's prayer, theological reflection and philosophical exploration right down to our own time.

Looking back over his conversion, and the "amazing grace" that had brought him thus far, Augustine writes these much quoted words in the first paragraph of the Confessions:

" . . . you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.?"

Later on, he speaks for each of us when he says to the Lord:

". . . I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who is over all things, God blessed forever, who was calling unto me and saying: I am the way, the truth, and the life . . .

"Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you! For behold you were within me, and I outside; and I sought you outside and in my ugliness fell upon those lovely things that you have made. You were with me and I was not with you. I was kept from you by those things, yet had they not been in you, they would not have been at all. You called and cried to me and broke open my deafness: and you sent forth your beams and shone upon me and chased away my blindness: you breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for you: I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you: you touched me, and I have burned for your peace."

(Go HERE to read a short article on St Augustine by Malcolm Muggeridge.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Michael Ramsey, C.S. Lewis, Georges Florovsky & Carlo Carretto on PRAYER

We learn from St Paul’s prayers how the great themes of the Lord’s Prayer prevail in the prayer of the early Christians. As the apostolic age proceeds, a Trinitarian pattern of prayer becomes apparent. Prayer is to the Father, and Jesus is not only the one through whom Christians pray, but also the one who evokes a devotion that would be idolatrous if he were not indeed divine. It is the Holy Spirit who enables Christians to pray ‘Abba - Father’ (Romans 8:15), and to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus. Experiencing a threefold relationship to God in their prayer, Christians encounter a threefold relationship with God Himself; and the discourses and prayer in St John’s Gospel begins to unveil this. It is within the Trinitarian character of Christian prayer that the theology of the Trinity grows.
    - Michael Ramsey in Be Still and Know, p. 42

“Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows himself to us. That he answers prayers is a corollary – not necessarily the most important one – from that revelation. What he does is learned from what he is.”
     - C.S. Lewis in The Efficacy of Prayer, p. 8

Christian worship is intrinsically a personal act and engagement, and yet it finds its fullness only within the community, in the context of common and corporate life. Personal devotion and community worship belong intimately together, and each of them is genuine and authentic, and truly Christian, only through the other. Common prayer presupposes and requires personal training. Yet personal prayer itself is possible only in the context of the community, since no person is Christian except as a member of the Body. Even in the solitude, “in the chamber,” a Christian prays as a member of the redeemed community, of the Church.
      - Georges Florovsky, quoted in The Orthodox Church Magazine, NY, Vol 43, 2007

Prayer is not so much a matter of talking as listening; contemplation is not watching but being watched. On the day when we realize this, we will have entered finally into possession of the truth, and prayer will have become a living reality. To be watched by God: that is how I would define contemplation, which is passive rather that active, more a matter of silence than of words, of waiting rather than of action. What am I before God? If He shuts, no one opens, and if He opens, no one shuts. He is the active principle of love, He is before all, He is the one who makes within me His own prayer, which then becomes my prayer. . . It was He who sought me in the first place, and it is He who continues to seek me.
       - Carlo Carretto (1910-1988), in God of the Impossible, p.57 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

St Bernard, preacher of God's love

Bernard of Clairvaux, as a result of whose ministry flames of real revival were lit right across Europe, is said to have been one of the most powerful preachers ever in the history of the Church. He was passionately in love with the Lord, and proclaimed a message of God’s grace, inspiring hundreds of thousands seek God. 

Bernard was born in 1091 into the minor nobility of Burgundy, France, grew up relatively privileged, and received a very good education. At the age of twenty-two, however, he turned his back on a life of ease to join the newly founded Cistercian Order. He influenced thirty men from the same background to move with him to Cîteaux - an uncle, four brothers and twenty-five others. Only three years later Bernard was asked to found a new monastery at Clairvaux, where he was to remain as abbot until his death in 1153.

From this base, Bernard travelled around Europe, preaching the gospel. History records that many knights responded to his message, commiting their lives to Jesus, renouncing their glory, warfare and immoral behaviour, a considerable number of them joining the Cistercian Order, taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and learning to live by the Scriptures.

A colourful personality towering over the twelfth century, Bernard became the most prominent figure of his day, and one of the most influential Christian leaders of all times. 

Over the next thirty years, Bernard founded sixty-eight new Cistercian communities, teaching Scripture and moulding Christ-like character. With these communities and their daughter houses, Bernard ended up being personally responsible for 164 centres across Europe. He threw himself into discipling new believers and training leaders for these monastic houses which became centres of genuine faith and conduits of spiritual regeneration for the surrounding countryside. Bernard’s writings led many to Christ during his lifetime and sparked a series of revivals that would sweep Europe over the next three centuries. But that’s not all. He carried on a huge correspondence in which he even corrected bishops, popes and kings, as he called the powerful in both church and state to genuine faith and servant leadership.

Nor did Bernard shy away from the controversies of his time. He boldly stood up against compromise in the church wherever he found it. He opposed the growing rationalism that he saw in the universities. And he urged the nobility of Europe to unite against the military threat of Islam. 

Mostly, however, Bernard tirelessly preached the gospel to his generation.

Scripture fills Bernard’s preaching and writing. In his written works, there is a quote or allusion to the Word of God in just about every sentence. He was soaked in Scripture! He loved it, and had memorised so many passages - that everything he said radiated God’s Word.

Bernard was an evangelist, pleading with his hearers to make a total commitment to Jesus. He wanted their conversion to be authentic.  He was a strident critic of the “nominal Christianity” predominating among clergy and laity alike. In his tract “On Conversion” he confronted sin head-on and declared that a new conversion is absolutely essential.

Bernard would not allow lukewarm or halfhearted faith in the Cistercian movement. All who joined were to have been soundly converted and following Jesus with zeal. 

For Bernard, conversion is not just a matter of renouncing the world. It is to enter into a deeply personal friendship with Jesus. He proclaimed and lived an evangelical catholicism. At a time when scholastic theologians were debating abstract propositions, Bernard insisted on practical application of the Scriptures in the disciple’s daily life. And though he wrote in beautiful Latin and was a gifted scholar, he brought Scripture down to earth, making it come alive at an individual level for each disciple in such a way as to nourish his or her relationship with God.

The image Bernard consistently uses in portraying our relationship with God is the nuptial symbolism of bride and bridegroom, in fact, resting on the primordial image in Scripture of Christ as the heavenly Bridegroom, with the church as his bride (Eph 5:25-33), being prepared for the great wedding feast (Matt 25:1-13; Rev 19:7-9 and 21:1-27).

In his writings, and especially in his sermons on the Song of Songs, Bernard personalises this reality and welcomes each believing soul to see itself as Christ’s bride and receive the Lord’s tender touch. [Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, trans. Kilian Walsh, 4 Vol. (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1976).] Sometimes referred to as bridal spirituality, this message invites men and women alike to experience the closest possible relationship with the Lord. The goal of Bernard’s whole ministry was to bring hungry souls into true intimacy with Jesus.

“God is love,” (1 John 4:8) is the key verse in all that the Abbot of Clairvaux says. For dogmatic and political reasons, the medieval church often saw Jesus as the vengeful King coming to condemn the ungodly on the Day of Judgment. In Bernard’s teaching Jesus is the Good Shepherd whom the Father sends into the world to save the lost and dying. Jesus is approachable, offering grace to those drowning in their sin.

In his work, “On Loving God,” Bernard asks: How much did God love us? He answers with a tour-de-force of passages from the New Testament:

St John says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). St Paul says, “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us” (Rom 8:32). The Son, too, said of himself, “No one has greater love than the man who lays down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). [Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, trans. G. R. Evans, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 175.]

Throughout his writing Bernard emphasises God’s love and maintains that salvation is entirely by God’s grace. We could never earn it. In response to God’s love for us, we love him, desire him and seek him with our whole heart. The forgiven soul, says Bernard, “seeks eagerly for his Creator, and when he finds him, holds to him with all his might.” [Ibid., 176.]

* * * * * * * * * *

Anglicans are most aware of St Bernard through the well known translation of two of his hymns: 

Jesu dul­cis memoria 

Jesu! the very thought is sweet!
In that dear Name all heart-joys meet;
But sweeter than the honey far
The glimpses of his presence are.

No word is sung more sweet than this:
No name is heard more full of bliss;
No thought brings sweeter comfort nigh,
Than Jesus, Son of God most high.

Jesu! the hope of souls forlorn!
How good to them for sin that that mourn!
To them that seek thee, O how kind!
But what art thou to them that find?

Jesu, thou sweetness, pure and blest,
Truth’s Fountain, Light of souls distressed,
Surpassing all that heart requires,
Exceeding all that soul desires!

No tongue of mortal can express,
No letters write his blessedness,
Alone who hath thee in his heart
Knows, love of Jesus! what Thou art.

O Jesu! King of wondrous might!
O Victor, glorious from the fight!
Sweetness that may not be expressed,
And altogether loveliest!

(This hymn is also translated as: ”Jesus, the very thought of thee”
and “Jesus, thou joy of  loving hearts”

* * * * * * * * * *

Jesu, Rex admirabilis 

O Jesus, King most wonderful,
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou Sweetness most ineffable,
In whom all joys are found!

When once thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, Light of all below,
Thou Fount of life and fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire!

Thy wondrous mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousand fold,
Whatever we can say.

May every heart confess thy Name;
And ever thee adore;
And seeking thee, itself inflame,
To seek thee more and more.

Thee may our tongues forever bless;
Thee may we love alone;
And ever in our lives express
The image of thine own.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

St Maximilian, pray for us.

Maximilian was born in Poland in 1894. At the age of twelve he had a vision of our Lady offering him a white crown and a red crown. The white crown symbolised perseverance in holiness, and the red crown symbolised accepting martyrdom. He was to choose. This devout boy accepted both! (His first name was actually Raymond. He later took the name of Maximilian, an ancient Christian martyr.)

He became a Franciscan priest and as the years went by he developed into a remarkable evangelist, bringing many thousands of young people to the Lord in Poland and then Japan. But the darkness that spread across Europe during the 1930's gave rise to the Second World War, and on 17th February 1941 Maximilian, whose large following was feared by the Nazis, had been arrested. In May of that same year he was transferred to the dreadful Auschwitz concentration camp where he devoted himself completely to caring for the other prisoners. His kindness, love and generosity became well known.

At the end of July one of the prisoners escaped. In a fit of rage the commander ordered that ten prisoners should die in his place. The prisoners were lined up and ten picked out at random. The ninth one chosen, a young Polish soldier, broke down and asked for mercy on the grounds that he was married and had a young family to support. It was then that Maximilian stepped forward and asked if he could take the man's place. After giving the matter some thought, the commander agreed.

The ten condemned men were flung naked onto the concrete floor of an underground bunker and were left there to starve to death. The guards observed them through a peep-hole and could hardly believe what they saw. Frequently the condemned men were gathered around Father Maximilian. Sometimes they were joking, sometimes they were praying, sometimes they were singing hymns and praising the Lord. The assistant janitor, an eyewitness of those terrible days, said that it was as though the cell in which the condemned men were held "had become a church."

Fourteen days went by, and death overtook the prisoners one by one. Father Maximilian was the last to die when a guard put and end to his agony with an injection of phenol.

Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose place Maximilian had taken, survived Auschwitz and the war. Later he said, "At first I felt terrible at the thought of leaving another man to die in my place. But then I realised that he had done this, not so much to save my life, as to be with the other nine in their last terrible agony. His nearness to them in those dreadful last hours was worth more than a lifetime of preaching."

Maximilian might have contented himself with giving those men encouragement and advice. If it had been allowed he might have visited them in their death cell. But his presence with them, sharing their dreadful ordeal meant more than anything else.

Maximilian's death began a healing work in many hearts. After the War he became a popular symbol of the cry for a renewed respect of basic human rights in Germany as well as in Poland. In church circles, people of both nationalities pressed for his recognition as a Saint. This eventually took place in October 1982 in St Peter's Basilica, Rome. The next day, Franciszek Gajowniczek and many other survivors of Auschwitz and similar concentration camps were present at a special service of reconciliation in which Germans and Poles prayed together and exchanged the greeting of peace with each other. Gajownizek died in 1995, a great-grandfather.

Like Jesus whom he served, Maximilian gave his life for others. Like Jesus, his very presence reassured all kinds of people that God was real and that he loved them in spite of all the suffering and pain in the world.

St. Maximilian's cell in Block 11 at Auschwitz

Patricia Treece, in A Man For Others quotes one of the prisoners who witnessed Maximilian offer himself in Franciszek Gajowniczek's place:

"It was an enormous shock to the whole camp. We became aware someone among us in this spiritual dark night of the soul was raising the standard of love on high. Someone unknown, like everyone else, tortured and bereft of name and social standing, went to a horrible death for the sake of someone not even related to him. Therefore it is not true, we cried, that humanity is cast down and trampled in the mud, overcome by oppressors, and overwhelmed by hopelessness. Thousands of prisoners were convinced the true world continued to exist and that our torturers would not be able to destroy it. More than one individual began to look within himself for this real world, found it, and shared it with his camp companions, strengthening both in this encounter with evil. To say that Father Koble died for one of us or for that person's family is too great a simplification. His death was the salvation of thousands. And on this, I would say, rests the greatness of that death. That's how we felt about it. And as long as we live, we who were at Auschwitz will bow our heads in memory of it as at that time we bowed our heads before the bunker of death by starvation. That was a shock of optimism, regenerating and giving strength; we were stunned by this act, which became for us a mighty explosion of light in the dark camp night . . ."

". . . For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall walk by your light . . ." (Isaiah 60:1-2)

St Maximilian, pray for all who face martyrdom today. Pray for all who are persecuted. Pray for all who suffer for the honour of the name of Jesus and for loyalty to the Faith once delivered to the Saints. Pray for the rent, torn, divided Church, a Church afflicted by the unbelief, sin, selfishness, careerism, and secularism of her ministers and people, that she may be renewed in the love of Jesus, purified by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, and strengthened by the intercession of Our Lady and the Saints, to proclaim the authentic Gospel in our day, by her words, her deeds and her presence with all who suffer.

The painting of St Maximilian at the Franciscan Church in Krakow.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Read the Summer edition of TOGETHER

This is the second issue of the newspaper “TOGETHER”, published and edited by the Church Union in co-operation with the Additional Curates Society, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and Forward in Faith. 

The Editor of TOGETHER is Fr Christopher Smith SSC, Vicar of St Alban’s Holborn.

Click HERE to download your copy.

Friday, August 8, 2014

St Dominic's prayer

We give thanks to-day for the compassionate and gentle Dominic who with his love of souls, his thirst fro0 God’s truth, and his organizing ability gave to the Church a mission to convert souls and relieve suffering. Here is a prayer of his:

May God the Father who made us bless us.
May God the Son send his healing on us.
May God the Holy Spirit move within us 
and give us eyes to see, 
ears to hear, 
and hands that your work may be done.
May we walk and preach the word of God to all.
May the angels of peace watch over us 
and lead us at last by God’s grace to the kingdom. 

Go to Mariane Dorman’s website HERE for an excellent appreciation and biography of St Dominic.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Fr Michael Harper: "We cannot be beaten into shape"


There are a number of Hebrew words about salvation which also mean “to bring into a spacious environment”, “to be at one’s ease”, “to be free to develop”. 

“Salvation” can be seen then as the new life in Christ, in which we are to be “free to develop” into Christ-like people. 

For this maturing to take place, there needs to be a breaking down of barriers, a breaking up of the soil of our personalities, and a healing of inner wounds and hurts. The soil is softened, the clay becomes malleable through the experience of the tender love of God and the accepting, non-judgmental love of Christians. 

We cannot be beaten into shape.

- Fr Michael Harper (1931-2010), “Christian Maturing”, in The Lord Christ [1980], John Stott, ed., vol. 1 of Obeying Christ in a Changing World, John Stott, gen. ed., 3 vol., London: Fountain, 1977, p. 151

Go HERE for more about Fr Michael Harper.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Middle East violence: a word from the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East

As we continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and for the safety of all people in that part of the world, we should heed the firm but irenic words of the ancient Church, the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. The Patriarchate has issued two statements regarding, first, the violence in Iraq, Syria, and Gaza, and second, the place of Christians throughout the region.

The first statement, dated July 23, 2014, reads (official Arabic version; official English version):

At a time when Syria’s wounds have been bleeding for more than three years, amidst the wounds of Iraq, which has experienced conflict since the 1980’s, amidst the unrest that is sweeping countries near and far, and amidst the world’s indifference to Palestine’s wounds, which have not healed in almost seventy years, these days in particular we are witnessing a multiplication of these wounds in the expulsion of Mosul’s Christians and the all-out assault on Gaza amidst a disgraceful international silence.

The cycle of violence sweeping Iraq and Syria, expelling peaceful citizens has not let up, as recent events in Iraq and specifically in Mosul have completed the series of murder, religious prejudice, and terror.

We strongly condemn attacks on any segment of society in this Middle East and we especially condemn the attack on the Christians of Mosul and their being compelled by force of arms to change their religion under the penalty of paying the Jizya or abandoning their homes and having their property confiscated.These fundamentalist movements that are trying to become mini-states through force and terror with outside moral and material support are the greatest threat to people in the Middle East and to coexistence there. We ask the international community and specifically the United Nations and all global powers and organizations to take into proper consideration what is happening in Iraq, Mosul and the entire Middle East.

We call on them to deal with the current situation courageously, with a genuine language of human rights and not a language of interests that uses the principles of human rights and exploits them in the service of narrow aims and interests. We ask the countries that provide outside support to these groups, whether directly or indirectly, to cease immediately from all forms of material, moral, logistical and military support for these extremist groups and so cut off at its root the terrorism that is first of all a threat to the peace and peoples of those countries. We likewise call for an end to resorting to any form of violence as a means by which citizens deal with each other.

Because we in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East constantly affirm that Christians and Muslims are two lungs of a single Middle Eastern body that stands on citizenship and common life, we reject anything that would first of all hurt Islam’s reputation for tolerance, brotherhood and peaceful life, which we have experienced, and secondly disrupts the right of citizens to have a civic presence free from sectarian or racial pressures.

As the world watches what is happening in Mosul, the chain of violence is repeated in the Gaza Strip under various justifications, amidst a frightening international silence. This is happening while the outside world is content to watch a bloodbath that has not spared women, children and the elderly. It is as though the Middle East has become a testing-ground for every sort of weapon and a fertile soil for every sort of plot. It is as though the people of the Middle East are a commodity created to be dough in the hands of the forces of evil, when they are created to be the image of the Lord’s splendor and the focus of the Creator’s good pleasure, with good relationships with their fellow citizens and fellow humans.

We in the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East understand the common fate that binds us to our Christian and Muslim brothers in Palestine. We implore the international community for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the sinful siege on our brothers in Palestine, whose cause remains par excellence the cause of Humanity.

The attachment of the Palestinians to their land and their longing to return to it is a cause for hope for all those suffering in this Middle East and a mark of shame upon the faces of those for whom “human rights” end at the hills of Palestine while at the same time that they traffic in these “rights” in order to intervene in the affairs of other peoples.

We pray that God give peace to the world, that He give strength to all those in distress, that He cause peace to be lasting in the Middle East, so that humanity may enjoy well-being and tranquility.

The second statement, dated July 30, 2014, reads (official Arabic version; official English version):

In the midst of all destruction which is taking place in the Middle East and with the recent events like killings and displacements which affected Christians and others, and in the midst of the conflicts in Syria and the attack on Gaza, we hear some officials of Western governments giving  declarations from time to time or publishing some “studies” to express their unreal empathy with Christians of certain areas and showing their solidarity with them, describing their circumstances in a way that supports the logic of minorities. But the most recent of these declarations is that of the French government regarding its readiness to accept the Iraqi Christians and granting them a political asylum, in addition to the study issued by the American Ministry of Foreign Affairs that describes the presence of the Christians in the Middle East as “a shadow of its former status”.

We, in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, would like to confirm that the difficult circumstances in the East do not justify anybody’s attempt to misuse them as “Trojan Horse” to empty the East from its Christians, declaring  that what Christians are confronting in the East is similar to what is happening to religious or ethnic minorities in other places of the world. We believe that helping the inhabitants of the East, Christians or Muslims, starts with uprooting terrorism  from its homeland and stop nourishing the movements of extremism and Takfirism (religious prejudice), whose financial resources are very well known as well as  the states and the governments that offer them the ideological, logistic and military support through undeclared international alliances. The best way to help Christians and Muslims in the East is by restoring peace through dialogue and political solution, and through practical rejection of all resources that nourish the reasons of this extremism, refusing the injustice towards Palestinians, adapting an honest Media that shows the active role of the Christians in the life of their homelands away from any statistical division of people.

We say it to all: the only embracing place for Christians and Muslims of this area is their homelands, in which they have been living together for many centuries, building a unique civilization recognized  by a real partnership; a civilization that transferred to the West the human heritage and enriching it. We, the Christians of this land, will not accept to be treated through the logic of minorities which is imposed on us from abroad, and we reconfirm that we were and are still committed to the message of our Gospel, which has arrived to us from our ancestors 2000 years ago. Our forefathers carried and transferred this message to us  enduring numerous afflictions.  And we will keep this seed which we have received here in the East, growing it and being loyal to it. 

Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East

Saturday, August 2, 2014

With the centenary of WWI in mind . . .

Jesus, Son of Mary, fount of life alone,
Here we hail thee present on thine altar throne.
Humbly we adore thee, Lord of endless might,
In the mystic symbols, veiled from earthly sight.

Think, O Lord, in mercy on the souls of those 
Who, in faith gone from us, now in death repose. 
Here ‘mid stress and conflict toils can never cease; 
There, the warfare ended, bid them rest in peace. 

Often they were wounded in the deadly strife,
Heal them, good Physician, with the balm of life.
Every taint of evil, frailty and decay,
Good and gracious Saviour, cleanse and purge away.

Rest eternal grant them, after weary fight:
Shed on them the radiance of thy heavenly light.
Lead them onward, upward, to the holy place,
Where thy Saints made perfect gaze upon thy face.

Edmund S. Palmer wrote this hymn to be sung at a requiem for a member of the UMCA before 1901, and it was included in the Mission’s Swahili Hymn Book. Palmer translated the words from Swahili to English in 1902, when they were first printed privately. They were included in the English Hymnal in 1906.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Some more Mascall - this time on the Catholic Movement

Christ Church, Oxford, where Dr Mascall taught from 1945 until 1962 

One of the “must reads” of our time is Saraband: The Memoirs of E.L. Mascall (published in 1992). Apart from being an extremely enjoyable and entertaining collection of memoirs, it is as valuable a tool in understanding the flow of 20th century Church of England history as any of the “technical” histories available. The reason for this is two-fold. First, Mascall knew personally so many of the key players, and they cross his pages as real people with strengths, weakness and idiosyncrasies. He brings them alive. He writes gently, with great humour, but also at times he takes the micky! Second, Mascall’s work is a very astute commentary from a Catholic perspective of the direction Anglican theology was taking during his lifetime, and I think that we ignore his observations to our peril.    

I share with you today some words Mascall wrote in Saraband (p.78) on the Catholic movement within the Church of England. On all counts they are sobering. (I have broken Mascall’s paragraph into smaller ones.) 

The chief weakness of the Catholic Movement was, I believe, the assumption that all church people had imbibed with their mother’s milk, or at any rate, learnt at their mother’s knee, nine tenths of the Catholic religion without knowing what it was, and that all that was needed to turn them into fully informed Catholics was to add a few admittedly very important extras concerning confession, the real presence, prayers for the dead and the veneration of the saints. It was just not understood that, while there is (or, rather, was) a vast common area of belief that is common to Catholicism and that vaguely delineated attitude that the average Englishman referred to when he described himself as a Protestant, Catholicism is a view of reality and a way of life that form an integrated and coherent whole. 

That the Incarnation of the Eternal Word is not a past episode but a continuing reality, that God has taken our nature so that we might be taken into his, that nature is really transformed by grace and not merely adorned by it - such pervasive and orientating essentials of Catholicism seem to have been simply taken for granted by our scholars. 

The consequence being that, instead of penetrating the Church as a whole, they have been first ignored, then forgotten, and finally treated as irrelevant. 

Today we have arrived at a situation in which, when both the Trinity and the Incarnation are denied by prominent members of the clergy, the accredited guardians of the Faith, while adopting the ornaments of Catholicism and expressing approval of the achievements of the Catholic Movement, cannot be persuaded that the preservation of the basic truths of the Faith is sufficiently important to justify their intervention. Many of the parish clergy are sensitive to the situation; and they feel badly let down not only by the bishops but by the scholars.