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Friday, December 25, 2009

Nativity 2009 (Part 3)

First, a Christmas hymn in Syriac:

(P/T Priest Theodosius Walker)



Note that an English translation is given in the video.

Second, an annual Christmas post from Fr. Stephen, quoting St. Ephrem the Syrian and emphasizing the smallness and humility of God as manifested in the Christ child. Pope Benedict XVI spoke in similar terms last night during his homily at Midnight Mass.

"The Smallness of God"

And finally:

"Sharon's Christmas Prayer" by John Shea, apparently published originally by Argus Communications, back in 1977. Argus Communications also brought us a book called The Last Western by Thomas Klise. Hard to get these days, but well worth the effort.

(P/T Abu Daoud)

She was five,
sure of the facts,
and recited them
with slow solemnity
convinced every word
was revelation.
She said

they were so poor
they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
to eat
and they went a long way from home
without getting lost. The lady rode
a donkey, the man walked, and the baby
was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)
but the Three Rich Men found them
because a star lited the roof
Shepherds came and you could
pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?

Her quarter eyes inflated
to silver dollars,
The baby was God.

And she jumped in the air
whirled round, dove into the sofa
and buried her head under the cushion
which is the only proper response
to the Good News of the Incarnation.


"The baby was God."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Memory Eternal: Two unexpected passings

First, the longtime rector of the Anglican Church of the Epiphany in Columbia, South Carolina, the Very Rev. Fr. Craig Edward Young, SSC, who reposed on Monday, December 14, 2009. I did not know Fr. Young particularly well, but he did attend my ordination to the priesthood, and he was a few months younger than I, always sobering, especially when one has already survived two cardiac events. Fr. Young's obituary is found here and another Anglican priest, who lives in Charleston, has written a remembrance of Fr. Young:

"Remembering the Very Rev. Craig Edward Young, SSC"

Second, His Eminence Archbishop Job, ruling hierarch of the Diocese of Chicago and the Midwest, Orthodox Church in America, fell asleep in the Lord today. Notice of his death and a short obituary is found on the OCA website, here. At age 63, Archbishop Job was also relatively young.

Keep them, their families, and the ministries they leave behind in your prayers.

May their memory be eternal!

May their souls, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Exchange with Don Warrington

Don Warrington is a lay leader in the Church of God, a classical Pentecostal Holiness denomination. He was raised in the Episcopal Church and was, for a time, Roman Catholic. Thus, his journey is almost exactly the opposite of mine. In any event, a while ago he posted a piece called "Why I don't agree with the Concept of the Sacrifice of the Mass". I posted a comment in reply, found at the bottom of the post. Don then posted the following: "Priesthood, Analogical and Formal: A Reply to Fr. Greg on the Sacrifice of the Mass" and I again replied, by way of a comment to this post. Don then posted "More on the Eucharist, Churches, and Priests". Primarily for convenience sake, I had hoped to confine this discussion to Don's blog, but I am concerned that my latest reply is too long for the comments section. Thus, I am posting it here.

Don, what you have written concerning the end of sacrifice assumes that the foundational purpose of sacrifice is dealing with sin. This is not the case: sacrifice, being grounded in the Intra-Trinitarian Divine Life itself, in the kenotic relationships between the Divine Persons, and, by extension, in the relationship between humanity and God, as creature and creator, precedes the Fall and its primary purpose is communion between God and humanity. (See A. Schmemann, For the Life of the World.) The shedding of blood, the slaughter of biological creatures, only becomes part of sacrifice with the Fall: “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” This is true, in short, because sin kills. Further, not even all of the sacrifices in the Jewish system involved the shedding of blood. There were offerings of incense, grain, wine, and then, there was the “Bread of the Presence” all of which point to the Eucharist (Incense is a separate issue, but is closely associated with the celebration of the Eucharist.) So, the Eucharist is a real sacrifice, offered by real priests, not so much for the expiation of sin (In this context, baptism and the Mystery/Sacrament of Reconciliation are for the appropriation of that), but for the worship of, and communion with, the Divine Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity.

Regarding Participation/Koinonia: That would work if this participation in the Divine Life were only individual, interior, and psychological. However, it is not. Human participation in the Divine Life is interpersonal and communal, both interior and exterior, and both psychological and sociological, just as is human life itself, created in the image and likeness of the Divine Trinitarian life. Again, one cannot be reconciled with God and at the same time be alienated from his kindred who are also “members of Christ” and are thus, “members one of another” as St. Paul writes.

You write: “In Roman Catholicism at least the idea is stronger than that: through the withholding of the sacraments (excommunication,) the church is capable of denying eternal life.”

Actually, the concept is the exactly the opposite. Church discipline is exercised in order to bring someone to repentance and thereby, to eternal life, never to deprive anyone of eternal life. Remember that if the Eucharist is received unworthily, such reception, far from bringing the receiver closer to God, does just the opposite, subjects the one who so receives to Divine Judgement, and endangers their participation in eternal life (I Cor. 11:27-32). Also, in all the Apostolic Churches, all Church discipline ends at the time of death; the person in question is released into the hands of the ultimate judge, Jesus Christ himself. As further evidence of this, all priests are duty bound, in the case of danger of death, to administer the last sacraments to anyone, regardless of standing with the Church, at the least sign of repentance (construed in the most general of terms): all disciplinary bets are off (or, if the person is unconscious, the priest is to presume repentance and so to administer anointing and absolution). Further, the question of infallibility doesn’t real enter into questions of discipline per se. Thus, your numbered points are at best a caricature.

With that in mind, let me address this question of discipline with regard to the issues you raise. I will return to the question of Church unity afterward. First, I am not defending Rome against the other Apostolic Churches. It has distortions which are unique to it, specifically with regard to the Filioque, Papal infallibility, and an ecclesiology which, in reality, denies the laity any role in the governance of the Church. The other Apostolic Churches, modeling their governance and the teaching role of the clergy on Acts 15, do not do this (at least not in theory, and when the bishops get out of line, this aspect of ecclesiology can always be invoked, as it often has been).

Now, having said that, and without in any way minimizing the pain inflicted on the victims, such as the martyred Archpriest, I have to ask: would you also abrogate or abolish the authority of parents over their children? Would you deny that such authority is of Divine origin? After all, many parents neglect or abuse their offspring and in so doing, inflict untold damage. (I myself am a victim of such parenting.) However, according to the Bible, both the authority of parents over their children and the authority of bishops in the Church is of Divine origin; and to abolish the latter because it has been abused would be highly analogous to abolishing parental authority: chaos results.

Just look at the world of Protestantism today: the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. At best, leaving aside such debacles as have occurred in many of the mainline Protestant groups and focussing only on Evangelicalism, the sacraments have become optional and often disparaged and Christians have lost touch with the great spiritual tradition of the Saints which is bound up with the 2,000 year history of the Apostolic Churches. They are “blown about by every wind of doctrine, being treated to “the prosperity gospel”, “the purpose driven life” and other such aberrations.

The great principle of the Reformation, “sola Scriptura” is contradicted, meaning that, in the name of sola Scriptura, much of the Bible is in fact ignored or explained away and the interpretation of the rest of is impoverished. Why? Because, “sola Scriptura” contradicts the Bible and thus, is self-contradictory: it is an oxymoron. The Bible points beyond itself, not only to Christ, but to the Church, and the Tradition of said Church is the only nexus in which the Bible itself can be fully and accurately understood. Further, while the Churches are always in need of practical reformation (not dogmatic reformation) to one extent or another, our primary task, as individual Christians, is not to reform the Churches, but to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, through the ministry of the Church, in the transformation of each of us as persons so that we conform to the image and likeness of Christ. The fundamental rule of thumb here is Matthew 23: “do what they say but not what they do.” The Christian path has long been laid down: it is simple, but no, it is not easy. So many would seek an easier softer way, and it is so much easier, and more gratifying to remove the speck from your eye than to remove the plank from my own. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony here.)

Now, regarding the Churches proper, those communities which, all else being equal, have maintained Apostolic Succession: actually, there are four communions which can trace their history directly back to the Apostles. These four are: the Roman Church, the Byzantine Orthodox Churches (Greeks, Russians, etc.), the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Coptic Church, Syriac Church, etc.), and the “Nestorian” Assyrian Church of the East, the East Syrian Church. (I have not included Anglicanism here because it is not clear to me that Anglicanism as a whole has in fact maintained valid Apostolic Succession. In any event, it is an off-shoot of Rome and would therefore be included in the next category.) Beyond these four, there are various off-shoots: for example, the Old Believers, the Old Calendarists, the RC Traditionalists, and the Old and Independent Catholics and the Independent Orthodox (not all of these successions stem from the aftermath of Vatican I), the latter having given rise, in one way or another, to virtually all of the Independent Churches of which you speak. (Many of these jurisdictions have fallen away into their own forms of craziness. Others have remained orthodox. In what follows, I am considering only the latter. While valid apostolic succession is necessary for a community to be fully a Church, it is not sufficient.) All of this, of course, begs the question of the “Oneness” of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

IMHO, the one Church is so divided, in the providence of God, for several reasons. The first is that when it comes to the really essential and basic questions, the “fundamentals,” these Churches speak with one voice (and yes, they all say that the Christian priesthood is real and that the Eucharist is a real sacrifice). Thus, even while separated and divided, they give a unanimous witness to the core content of the Apostolic Tradition. Second, it is MHO that these divisions came about to accommodate human weakness. This is especially manifest in contemporary America, where all of these major Churches are present and we have a full slate of Independents to boot. As a nation, we are a rebellious lot. Our country was forged in the fires of a revolution and reforged in the furnace of a civil war. We take no less kindly to overbearing ecclesiastical authority than we do to such political authority (although we are generally all too ready to tolerate overbearing, presumptuous, and arrogant leadership and authority figures in the business sector, but that is another story).

Can’t deal with Rome? You got the Byzantines (who are also divided, if not separated, in this country). Can’t deal with any of the big boys? You got the Independents. There is no need to tolerate a situation in which the sacraments are downplayed or dispensed with and the Faith is mutilated, abrogated, or both. There are options!

As you may be aware, I am a priest of one of these Independent Churches. While we are not overtly charismatic (being grounded in the Oriental Orthodox West Syriac Tradition), many of these Churches are, and I think that these lines of Apostolic Succession provide a viable alternative for the re-catholicization of Evangelical/Charismatic/Holiness congregations, even denominations, that have come to realize they have hit a dead end. Personally, given that I grew up in an eclectic Evangelical/Pentecostal/Holiness environment (Christian and Missionary Alliance, Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene), I would love to personally lead such a congregation (or denomination!) back to the fullness of the Faith once delivered; however, that opportunity has yet to come my way.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tebow's verse today, December 5, 2009

... is John 16:33, part of Jesus' conversation with his disciples on the night of the Last Supper, the night before he was executed. There is no sports reference here at all, so Tebow is obviously thinking beyond the SEC Championship game at hand and football in general. In John 16:33, Jesus says:

"I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (RSV)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Verses on Tim Tebow's Face Today.

Tim Tebow, if you don't know, is the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback for the University of Florida. The Gators are arguably the best college football team in the country right now and Tebow, the best player.

Tebow played his last regular season college game today, as Florida dismembered their in-state rivals, Florida State, 37-10. As he is wont to do, Tebow, a homeschooled Pentecostal Christian, etched a biblical citation in the black facepaint underneath his eyes. Today, the verses were Hebrews 12:1-2:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (RSV)

Yes, this is a sports reference. The "cloud of witnesses" are "fans in the stands". Tebow probaly chose this passage as generic encouragement to do one's best, regardless of what one is doing. However, it is obviously much more than that; the race is life itself, and losing is, quite literally, not an option here. Since Tebow is, presumably, Arminian in his Pentecostal soteriology, he is probably aware of this. However, he probably does not yet know about all the tools and weapons he has at his disposal: eating the Flesh of the Son of Man and drinking His blood in the most holy sacrifice of the Eucharist immediately comes to mind.

Tebow probably also does not know the following: the "cloud of witnesses" referred to above, the "fans in the stands," are occupying no stadium on earth. They are in heaven, as is attested in Hebrews chapter 11. This passage confirms the historical, apostolic doctrine of the Communion of Saints: the Church on earth is one with the Church in heaven and vice-versa because all are "members of Christ" and therefore, "members one of another". Does Tim know this? Probably not. May the Holy Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary and all the Saints in heaven pray for Tim and all those who are like him:

Lord Jesus, introduce Tim to your Mother and to all your Friends in heaven.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Question...

in response to this post from Fr. Ernesto:

"The Wrong Sort of 'Mere Christianity"

This question is for both clergy and laity, but especially clergy:

Why is it that we cannot, in all good conscience, say with St. Paul, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ"?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I wish I'd written this...

But since I didn't, thank God that Fr. Stephen did:

"Thus God came into our world, becoming one of us, so that by His sharing in our life, we might have a share in His life. In Holy Baptism we are united to Him, and everything else He gives us in the Life of His Church, is for the purpose of strengthening, nurturing, and renewing this Life within us. All of the sacraments have this as their focus. It is the primary purpose of prayer.

"Thus, stated simply, to have communion with God means to have a share in His Divine Life. He lives in me and I in Him. I come to know God even as I know myself. I come to love even as God loves because it is His love that dwells in me. I come to forgive as God forgives because it His mercy that dwells within me.

"Without such an understanding of communion, these vitally important parts of the Christian life usually become reduced to mere moralisms. We are told to love our enemies as though it were a simple moral obligation. Instead, we love our enemies because God loves our enemies, and we want to live in the Life of God. We’re not trying to be good, or to prove anything to God by loving our enemies. It is simply the case that if the Love of God dwells in us, then we will love as God loves."

Read it all:

"A Relationship with God?"

This is, indeed, the Orthodox Christian faith of the Apostles.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

October 23: St. James of Jerusalem

I was, uh, kind of busy yesterday (Friday, October 23), but I had to note this as soon as possible. Yesterday, the ACCA commemorated St. James of Jerusalem, the "brother" of the Lord, and the first bishop, after the Apostles of Jerusalem. Also known as "St. James the Just," he is believed to be the author of the New Testament Epistle of James, and the authorship of the "Liturgy of St. James" is attributed to him. (No, he had nothing to do with the production of the "KING James Bible.")

According to Eusebius, James the Just was martyred in Jerusalem a few years prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. According to both St. Paul and Eusebius, James was privileged to encounter the Risen Lord after the Resurrection.

St. James' Day is also the day upon which the ACCA was granted to autocephalous status. The year was 1991. Thus, as of yesterday, the ACCA has existed as an independent jurisdiction for 18 years.

A note of thanks and request for continued prayers

As I write this, I am lying in a hospital bed, having been admitted early yesterday morning due to having experienced a heart attack, my second. Fortunately, it appears that little damage has been done and I anticipate having a ROUTINE (as opposed to emergency) cardiac catheterization procedure on Monday. Thanks to all who are praying or are otherwise expressing their love and concern for me and my family. Please continue the prayers!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

To correct some genealogical misinformation

In looking for something else (ain't that always the case), I have discovered a truly bizarre mistake concerning my genealogy, published several places on the Internet. I am posting the following here in order to correct this mistake.

To wit:

My father was Rex Ralston Blevins. My mother, his wife, was named Attie Marguerite Blevins (her maiden name was, in fact, Blevins as well).

Maud Godsey, or Maude Godsey, was Rex's MOTHER, not his wife. Maud, therefore, was my maternal grandmother.

Weird.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Long-Delayed Post: Ordinations to the Priesthood

This post has been a long time in coming, since the end of May, in fact. It was delayed by my not being able to obtain pictures of the event. Well, the ACCA had its annual clergy convocation at the end of September, and I was finally able to the required shots. (As soon as I get pictures from convocation, I will post them as well.)

Back in May, the Cloistered Heart Myrrh-bearers Sisterhood and the associated Cloistered Heart God-bearers Brotherhood held an annual retreat. At that event, on Sunday, May 17, 2009, Mother Shirley Raper and Mother Jacqueline Dierring, both of the Sisterhood and veteran Deacons, were ordained to the Holy Priesthood by Victor Mar Michael Herron, Metran of the ACCA.

During the course of the Qurbana, after the Invocation of the Holy Spirit over the gifts consecrating them the Body and Blood of Christ, Mar Michael offers the Prayer for the ordination of priests. Avva Zakkai Patrick Pardee, Pastor of St. Demetrios in Knoxville, assists Mar Michael as Archdeacon.

Mar Michael lays hands on the ordinands, pronouncing the words of ordination. Avva Zakkai and Mar Michael then vest the new priests. First, Mother Shirley:

And then, Mother Jackie:
The Qurbana then continues. Mar Michael presides from the chair while Avva Zakkai and the new priests serve at the altar. Below, the three priests elevate the Holy Gifts: Together, they proclaim: "The Holy Mysteries are for the Holy!" The congregation responds: "One Holy Father, One Holy Son, One Holy Spirit, Who are One. Amen."

Mother Shirley is Priest-in-Charge of Holy Adoration Chapel, Sparta, Tennessee. Mother Jackie is Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity Chapel, Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Axios, Axios, Axios!

Many years!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dormition and Assumption of the Theotokos (Old Calendar)

Today is August 15 on the Old Calendar, the unrevised Julian Calendar. Those Byzantine Orthodox Churches which follow it today celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos. From Fr. Jonathan:

"Sleep and Rise, Fair Maiden, Daughter of Your Son"

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Dormition and Assumption of the Theotokos

Today the Apostolic Churches, both East and West (who use the contemporary calendar), celebrate the falling-asleep of the Mother of God, "our most holy, most pure, most glorious and blessed Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary", followed by her assumption, body and soul, into Heaven, the first fruits of the general resurrection.

"And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." (Revelation 12:1)

From St. Gregory Palamas: "A Homily on the Dormition"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

In the Roman Church, today commemorates the victory of Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan imprisoned by the Nazis. Fr. Kolbe gave up his life so that another prisoner, a man with a wife and children, could live.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, another martyr of the Nazi yoke, wrote, "When Christ calls a man, he calls him to die."

This theme of the Christian life as necessarily involving self-sacrifice and asketic struggle has come up in several places lately. Here are three:

Second Terrace: "When History Passes You By"

OrthoCuban: "On Wounds Borne For Us"

Anselm's Godblog: "Sacrifice"

and, the struggle on the cosmic level, within the human heart:

Glory to God for all Things: "The Last Battle"

Monday, August 10, 2009

Orthodoxy on the Gridiron: an Interview with Troy Polamalu

(Phiro tip: GetReligion)

Freelance journalist Gina Mazza talks with Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who is a convert to the Greek Orthodox Church. He and his wife, Theodora, recently became the parents of a son, Paisios.

In answer to Mazza's question, "What is your greatest wish for your child?", Polamalu responds:

"Without a question, my greatest wish would be for him to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian. That's what I want for myself, as well. Sometimes parents want their children to be what they never were. And that's one thing that I am gracious for Paisios to have: that he's able to grow up in the Orthodox church around monastics and priests that I was never able to experience as a kid - to grasp that, not take it for granted and really culture that."

Polamalu also says that if his son has to choose between becoming a priest and being a star athlete, he hopes that Paisios will choose the former.

Read it all here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Wikipedia (and Fr. Stephen)...

Wikipedia is somewhat controversial. Nevertheless, I have usually found it to be a reliable source of information (a bit of which, on certain topics, I myself have supplied).

My friend and colleague, Mother Charlie, Archabbas of the Order of Celtic Benedictines (see link on the right), called the following to my attention (and no, I contributed nothing to this particular article):

"Eastern Orthodox Christian theology"

I particularly like the lede paragraph:

"Eastern Orthodox Christian theology is the theology particular to the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is characterized by monotheistic Trinitarianism, belief in the Incarnation of the Logos (Son of God), a balancing of cataphatic theology with apophatic theology, a hermeneutic defined by Sacred Tradition, a concrete ecclesiology, a robust theology of the person, and a therapeutic soteriology."

And then, there is this, from Fr. Stephen:

"The Fullness of Faith"

One caveat: in the above, Father goes beyond a "concrete ecclesiology" to a typically Byzantine Orthodox closed ecclesiology which he then conflates with the doctrine of the Communion of Saints. However, it is better to know one place where the concrete Church actually is, even if one finds it only there, than to either, in effect, deny the existence of that real, historical, continuous Church (Evangelicalism), or (as in the case of Mormonism) to find it where it does not exist.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Transfiguration

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli'jah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli'jah." He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead." (Matthew 17:1-9, RSV)

"After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!"
(From "St. Seraphim of Sarov's Conversation With Nicholas Motovilov: A Wonderful Revelation to the World")

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Commemorating St. Jean Vianney

Today is the 150th anniversary of the repose of the simple RC priest known as the Cure d'Ars, St. Jean Marie Vianney. He is the patron of priests in the Roman Church, and he, along with Vladyka John the Wonderworker, Padre Pio, St. Maximillian Kolbe, St. John of Kronstadt, and the Indian Orthodox Prelate, Paulos Mar Gregorios, are among my favorite contemporary or near-contemporary Saints who are priests. In the Kingdom, where they now reign with Christ, I have this impression that they are all close friends.

Joe Heschmeyer, at "Shameless Popery", has written a piece in honor of St. Jean. It is linked below and is well worth your time and attention.

"Happy Feast of St. John Vianney"

May all these Saints intercede before Christ our God for all bishops, priests, and deacons everywhere.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Nota Bene...

(Phiro Tip: St. Mary the Protectress)

From St. Macarius the Great

If a person pushes himself to attain prayer alone, when he has none, in order to attain its grace, without striving earnestly for meekness and humility and charity and all the other commandments of the Lord, neither taking pains nor struggling and battling to succeed in these as far as his choice and free will go, he may at times be given a grace of prayer with some degree of repose and pleasure from the Spirit according as he asks. But he has the same traits he had before. He has no meekness, because he did not seek it with effort and he did not prepare himself beforehand to become meek. He has no humility, since he did not ask for it and did not push himself to have it. He has no charity toward all men, because he was not concerned with it and did not strive for it in his asking for the gift of prayer. And in doing his work, he has no faith or trust in God, since he did not know that he was without it. And he did not take the pains to seek from the Lord for himself to have a firm faith and an authentic trust.

In St. Matthew's Gospel, as part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

"Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers." (Matthew 7:21-23, RSV)

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in the context of the Church: it's a package deal.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Life Well Lived...

An elderly Roman Catholic woman dies in Billings, Montana.

She was also African-American. There are few Black people in Montana and even fewer Black Roman Catholics.

Her life should inspire us all.

Frances W. Dixon

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Video from Andrew and Nicole's Wedding

This is the last portion of the ceremony, beginning just after the crowning, with the Dance of Isaiah, followed by the sharing of the common cup, the marriage blessing, the removal of the crowns, and the final blessing. Yes, it should have been chanted, but it was very, very hot and humid. I was unwilling to risk anyone, maybe especially myself, having problems with the heat; I am extremely heat sensitive. I did chant the quama, the series of prayers at the very beginning of the service. The recording volume is rather low.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wedding Pictures...

Andrew and Nicole are back from their Irish honeymoon, and as promised, there are wedding pictures:

Above: a large gazebo serves very well as an outdoor bema.

The wedding table. Crowns are on the left.

The new family and yours truly.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book Review: Fingerprints of God

For some time now, I have been interested in the intersection between science and spirituality. If God in fact exists and is responsible for the existence of the universe, if there is something that transcends what we can see, touch, and measure, then it is reasonable to assume that there would be traces of the Divine, “fingerprints of God”, if you will, to be found within human experience.

Because of this interest, I have sought out and read books such as those by Paul Davies. Mind of God is probably his best known. Other such books and authors which readily come to mind include God: The Evidence by Patrick Glyn, Language of God by Francis Collins, and the work of Gerald Schroeder, an observant Orthodox Jew and scientist who finds no contradiction between a Talmudic reading of Genesis and the standard scientific account of the origin of the universe and the emergence of life on our planet. Schroeder, apparently, had a great deal to do with the conversion of Anthony Flew from convinced atheist to theist – or perhaps deist.

Thus, I was pleased to receive a copy of Barbara Bradley Hegarty’s Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality for Fathers’ Day. Bradley Hegarty is a journalist who, for some years now, has covered religion for National Public Radio. Bradley Hegarty says that in writing this book, she is trying to understand her own experience, having been raised in a devout Christian Science environment and then, by way of a “numinous experience”, discovering the Jesus of the Gospels, leading her to the edge of Evangelicalism and finally, “mainstream Christianity”. What Bradley is looking for, she writes, is scientific confirmation, or at least justification, for her "intuition that God exists", that there is “something more”.

Among others, a major focus of this book is the emerging field of “neurotheology”, the exploration of what happens, both during and after, in a human brain when someone meditates, prays, uses a psychodelic drug such as peyote in a religious ritual, "hits bottom" or otherwise experiences a spontaneous conversion, or has a near death experience. The instruments these researchers use are products of state-of-the- art medical technology: highly sophisticated EEGs and brain scanning machines, such as MRIs and PET scanners.

As it turns out, such practices and experiences do make long term changes in brain activity and even, in the actual physiological structure of the brain itself.

Of course, the evidence in this regard has not yet accumulated to the point where most scientists have been convinced to abandon a materialistic view of the universe, or of life. However, the researchers that Bradley Hegarty interviewed are convinced that the science is about to enter, or has in fact already entered, a “paradigm shift” in this regard.

While this is clearly not a theological book, Bradley Hegarty’s journalistic research clearly has theological implications. From a Christian perspective, perhaps the most interesting is that NDE’s and long term practices of meditation and prayer produce similar results in the brain. This gives a whole new spin to the idea of the spiritual life, specifically the Christian spiritual life, as “dying to self” or “dying with Christ”.

However, for all that, Bradley Hegarty’s book does not touch on several significant areas. First, apparently none of the research subjects are drawn from those pursuing an Orthodox Christian spiritual path: in the book, we encounter Roman Catholic nuns, Pentecostals, Buddhist monks, “spiritual but not religious” types, and others, but no monks from Mount Athos. So I am left wondering: what would their brain function look like?

Another pertinent question has to do with identifying “non-local mind” with God or transcendent spiritual reality. This is reminiscent of Jung’s “collective unconscious”. What if “non-local mind” is simply a product of humanity?

Then there is a related, but more urgent issue. What of the human encounter with spiritual evil? One thinks immediately of Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil in which, for five persons, spiritual encounter has a destructive, not restorative effect. One also thinks of Scott Peck’s People of Lie as well as characters such as Charles Manson, the “Son of Sam”, Alistair Crowley, and various high level Nazis, whose ideology was undergirded by a certain spirituality. One would also note that for many traditions, Chritsian and non-Christian, it is deemed dangerous to undertake sustained spiritual practice apart from the input of someone who is more experienced and even, outside a spiritual community. Further, much spiritual literature is devoted to the matter of dealing with the egotism and evil that one will encounter while pursuing union with God. The closest that Bradley Hegarty gets to dealing with any of this is acknowledging that spirituality and certain psychiatric and neurological disorders exist on a continuum, reminding one of Jung's statement that "mystics are swimming in the same ocean in which psychotics are drowning".

With these shortcomings in mind, Bradley Hegarty’s book is worth the read. In the end, she reaches a common conclusion, one that seems entirely appropriate: while the existence of God and a transcendent realm is not provable, belief in God and another plane is justifiable, at least as reasonable as a purely materialist view of the universe.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"We done the Deed"

Andrew and Nicole are now husband and wife. Many years! to them, to her two daughters, and to their families and friends.

No pictures yet.

But the two original copies of the marriage license have been dropped in the mail, all properly signed by the bride, groom, two witnesses, and yours truly, sent to the Office of the Register of DEEDS, Mecklenburg County, South Carolina.

The venue was a B and B on Lake Wylie. An open air gazebo served as the bema. One notable moment, of which I was not even aware at the time, was when the ring bearer, a very active 5-year-old boy, fell off the gazebo. I was wondering why the bride and her attendants all began giggling.

In a possible first in the history of Christian weddings, while the bride and groom spent their wedding night in the "Juliet Suite", Khouria and I slept in the "Alexandria Room", the only overnight guests in the B and B. In the morning, the four of us shared breakfast, and then joined her extended family for lunch and a celebration of Fathers' Day, Andrew's first in his new role as stepfather. In a last minute addition to the ceremony, after Andrew and Nicole exchanged rings in the Betrothal, Andrew gave each of Nicole's two daughters a ring as well, repeating the words he had just said to Nicole: "Thus do I pledge thee my life forever."

All in all, this celebration, which included about 60 guests, was a fitting way for Andrew and Nicole to enter into the communion of marriage. God is good!

Also, Sunday, Fathers' Day, was the 20th Wedding Anniversary of Andreas Mar Cassian and Amma Caitlin Turner. Many years! to them and theirs as well.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Prayers Please

A little later today, we are travelling a few miles north, to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the marriage of Andrew and Nicole. Khouria Susan and daughter Larkin Ryan are coordinating the ceremony, at which I will preside. Daughter Cary will also assist. Please keep us, the wedding, and the soon-to-be married couple in your prayers, along with their families.

Yes, I am sure there will be pictures.

"For the servants of God Andrew and Nicole, who are now entering into the communion of marriage, and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.
Kyrie Eleison."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sailing to Byzantium...

The Byzantine Rite is the complex of worship rituals normally used by the, uh, well BYZANTINE Orthodox Churches (Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Antiochians - the other Antiochians that is, etc., etc.) and the Churches related to them which are in communion with, and under the jurisdiction of, the Pope (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Melkites, Ruthenians, etc., etc.) Descended from the most ancient liturgies of Jerusalem and Antioch (as is the Armenian Rite and our own West Syrian Rite), it developed in Constantinople (aka Byzantium) with input over the centuries from various monasteries. Above all, the Byzantine Rite is beautiful.

Fr. Stephen compares it - rightly, I might add - to a symphony:

"The Strange Land of Liturgical Knowledge"

and then there is this Baptist preacher in Texas who discovers this major brand of Orthodox worship:

"Not for Lightweights"

and

"St. Anthony the Great, Part 2"

followed by

"This Sunday - St. Joseph in Houston"

What Fr. Stephen long ago learned and what Baptist Pastor Gordon Atkinson is just now discovering is that revelation is not confined to the Bible, nor even to the rest of the Tradition as recorded in the various narrative and poetic writings which bear it witness. No, the Christian revelation is manifested in a very real way in the celebration of authentic liturgy. But this revelation is not simply the presentation of information. It is also encounter and communion, a real confrontation with the glorified Christ, He Who Is glorified precisely because he is first crucified and, as such, is himself the revelation of his unseen Father. The early Christians summed it up this way: "The rule of prayer is the rule of faith."

Every discussion of the Byzantine Rite, no matter how cursory, must include the following:

Many years ago, over 1,000 years ago actually, a pagan prince in Southeastern Europe began investigating the monotheistic religions with a view toward adopting one for himself and his people. He sent representatives to speak with Jews and with Muslims, to visit Rome and Germany, and then, to travel to Constantinople. After experiencing the faith and worship of Christ as found in Byzantium, they reported the following back to the Prince, whose name was Vladimir:

"We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty."

All of the ancient rites have their own ethos, their own genius. That of the Byzantine Rite is beauty, effulgent beauty. If you have never experienced the Byzantine Rite, you should. At least once.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday, 2009

* Love
* Life
* Communion
* Eros
* Ecstasy
* Perichoresis
* Kenosis
* A-temporality
* Personhood
* Hierarchy-in-equality
* Members one of another
* Generation
* Spiration
* Chrismation

God the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the eternal, archetypal communion, from whom "every community on earth is named."

From Anthony Lilles, who teaches at a Roman Catholic seminary:

"Trinity Sunday"

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost, 2009

"When the Most High descended and confused tongues, he scattered the peoples, but when he divided the tongues of fire, he called all to unity. Therefore, with one voice, let us praise the Most Holy Spirit." - Kontakion for Pentecost (Tone 8), Byzantine Rite

The coming of the Holy Spirit heals the divisions of the Tower of Babel, not by returning all of humanity to the use of one language, but by empowering the Apostles (and their successors) to proclaim one gospel, one message of good news for all people everywhere and for all time, regardless of the language they speak. This is the first and primary meaning and purpose of the "gift of tongues". Ecstatic prayer, while possible, is secondary.

Fr. Hosea has a Pentecost homily by Metropolitan John of Pergamum, formerly known as John Zizioulas, the author of Being as Communion.

"Come Holy Spirit! Sanctify our Lives!"

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Prayer for Priests

(Phiro tip to Philip Gerard Johnson)

"O Jesus, I pray for Your faithful and fervent priests, for Your unfaithful and tepid priests; for Your priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields; for Your tempted priests; for Your lonely and desolate priests; for Your young priests; for Your dying priests; for the souls of Your priests in purgatory.

"But above all I recommend to You the priests dearest to me: the priest who baptized me; the priest who absolved me from my sins; the priest at whose Masses I assisted and who gave me Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion; the priests who taught and instructed me; all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way. Jesus, keep them all close to Your heart, and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen".

"For all the clergy and all the faithful, that their prayers may be a stronghold for us, let us pray to the Lord. Kyrie Eleison" - West Syriac Rite, ACCA use.

Please keep all bishops, priests, and deacons in your prayers, especially me, the most unworthy priest Gregory.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fr. Joseph on the Ascension

Today, the Byzantine Orthodox celebrate the Ascension. Fr. Joseph Huneycutt, whose tone, but not faith, differs markedly from Fr. Stephen's, has a post:

"Ixnay on XB! (With a Shout!)"

Come Holy Spirit!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Kenosis in the Life of the Trinity

....as the basis of everything else, including ecclesiology.

Mother Clement and I were discussing this just last evening...

"The Church and the Cross"

Some have posited that the kenosis, the self-emptying, spoken of Philippians 2:7 means that Christ, in becoming human, somehow set aside his Deity. No, not at all; rather, the Divine Nature itself is inherently kenotic: "God IS love".

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Ascension of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ

As recorded in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles:

"In the first book [the Gospel of Luke], O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away..." (Acts 1:1-12, RSV)
The Ascension, then, sets the stage for Pentecost. It also completes the Incarnation, the process by which humanity is united with Deity, the Deity of God the Son; God and humanity are forever joined. It but remains for that unity to be actualized in the lives of Jesus' followers by the "baptism in the Holy Spirit".

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Death of a Reporter

Growing up in NE Montana, the Billings Gazette was a daily read. Now, I read it online (especially the obituaries). Today's edition brings news of the passing of a legend in Montana print journalism: Addison Bragg, who for many years wrote a daily column for the paper. He was 90.

"Addison Bragg"

Another Great Post from Fr. Stephen

Everything that OCA priest Fr. Stephen Freeman writes is good; however, some of his posts are especially worthy of mention. In this category of superb writing from Fr. Stephen is the following, concerning the relationship between the Saints and those of us who remain on earth. Truly, the Church is one!

"The Communion of Saints"

"Through the prayers of our Most Holy, Most Pure,Most Glorious and Blessed Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us, for Thou, O Lord, art good and lovest humanity".

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May 2: A modern "Mother of the Faith"

"WE OFFER this incense unto Thee [O Lord] as did Aaron the priest, who burned incense before Thee in the tabernacle and thus withheld the plague from Thy people, Israel. Thus do we commemorate Mary, the Holy Ever-Virgin Mother of God, the prophets and apostles, the righteous and just, the martyrs and confessors and all the Orthodox fathers and mothers of the Faith, the orphans and widows, the distressed and afflicted, the sick and oppressed and all who have asked for our prayers unto Thee, O Lord, and to † Thy Father and Thy Living Holy Spirit in both worlds unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen." (Offering of Incense, Holy Qurbana, West Syriac Rite, ACCA use)

"Blessed Matrona of Moscow" ora pro nobis

Friday, May 1, 2009

For One College Student, Finals are Over...(Updated)

And that student is our dear daughter. One year down, two years to go! (Before graduate school.)

"On a slightly more personal, and longer, note"

(Even though she is a Junior, Cary will apparently have to spend two more academic years at Loyola in order to complete her Environmental Science major and English Literature minor.)

May 1: St. Joseph the Worker, International Workers' Day

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days.

Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you. (James 5:1-6, RSV)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Mormon College Student converts to Roman Catholicism

Following a link from the blogroll on "StellarCross", the blog of my friend, Fr. Rob Lyons, I first read about Levi Checketts in Robert King’s "Thou Shalt Blog" at the website of the Indianapolis Star.

Checketts, 21, is a Junior at the University of Notre Dame, majoring in Arabic and Theology. Although he grew up in a Mormon family in the small town of Vernal, in northeastern Utah, he was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, less than two weeks ago, at Notre Dame.

I spoke with Checketts on the phone earlier this evening because I wanted to learn more about his journey from the LDS Church to Roman Catholicism. Checketts says he comes from a deeply devout and committed multi-generational LDS family, one in which the family prays together daily, attends church weekly, and which sent its sons and daughters to both Sunday school and “seminary”, a religious education program for elementary and high school students which takes place during the week, usually before school. He says his two older brothers went on their expected missions. Checketts says he has always been keenly interested in religion, in religious texts, and for that reason chose to study both Theology and Arabic at Notre Dame, even before deciding to become Roman Catholic. He says he always did well in the religious education programs in which he participated while growing up in the LDS Church.

He says he began questioning his Mormon faith largely because no one was willing to pin down a time for what is called the Great Apostacy, the idea that the original, apostolic Church completely abandoned the faith and lost the priesthood, only to have it restored by Joseph Smith. Checketts says he was always taught, growing up, that this apostacy coincided with the death of the Apostles but that now, the LDS Church is teaching that it occurred later, but is not specific on the question. He says that the LDS Church lays great stress on certainty in all matters religious, but that it seemed unable to answer the questions, such as this one, he was beginning to ask. He says he also found it impossible to conceive of a god who would abandon his people, his Church, entirely because some members, even some leaders, were losing fervor.

Finally, Checketts says, he decided to follow the instructions found in the Book of Mormon. He prayed, he says, “The most important prayer of my life.”

Moroni 10:4-5, in the Book of Mormon, reads: “And when ye shall receive these things [the teachings of the LDS Church], I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

Checketts says he had been taught that if he did this, and waited, the truth of Mormonism would be confirmed for him by a physical sensation, sometimes called “the burning in the bosom”. Nothing happened; however, he was not yet ready to become Roman Catholic. This did not come until about a year ago, when he says he attended a Roman Catholic silent retreat over Spring Break. Those directing the retreat suggested that the retreatants use the time to pray for discernment over anything that was bothering them, that they felt they needed “to clear up”. So, Checketts says, he prayed about whether or not he should become Roman Catholic, and by the time the retreat had ended, he had a clear answer.

Last September, as a new academic year began, he entered the RCIA program at Notre Dame, and was baptized a little more than a week ago.

One commenter on King’s blog post asserts that Checketts’ conversion was probably a matter of peer pressure, that one could not “party” at Notre Dame while holding to “Mormon values”. Checketts denies he is a partier, says he found the comment "offensive," and he wonders if the commenter himself may be, on some level, questioning his own Mormon faith. He says that other Mormons, not related to him, have responded with "more charity" and have been "more ecumenical" about his conversion, even if his own family is still coming to terms with his decision.

Checketts says he is, for the second year running, President of a group of Notre Dame students that tutors neighborhood children in South Bend, Indiana, where Notre Dame is located. He says he is also involved with various international cultural programs for students. “I am trying to make the most of my educational opportunities,” he says. He also says no one at Notre Dame ever tried to convert him, that everyone he encountered there had been respectful of his previous Mormon faith.

As far as the future is concerned, Checketts says he plans to get a Ph.D. in Theology and then, to teach. When asked about the possibility of the Roman Catholic priesthood, Checketts chuckles. “I don’t think my girlfriend would like that very much,” he says.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

As I was saying...

"Intransigent Historical Claims"

And will be saying again: fully authentic apostolic Christianity - embodied in the Church of the New Testament, the "one holy catholic and apostolic Church" - is visible, historical, and continuous, right up until this very moment, and beyond, until the glorious Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ:

"Thomas and the other disciples who spread the faith to the East left churches in their wake (or at least, nascent Christian communities that would, just as they did in Rome, turn homes into churches and then build basilicas over them). These churches, rooted in the apostolic proclamation but developing within the cultures in which they took root, [became] the churches of the East, in Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, Asia Minor, Armenia, Syria, Persia, and India.

"There were doctrinal disputes among them, and between them and the West, but, as joint statements from those churches and the [Roman] Catholic Church during the pontificate of John Paul II proclaimed, they remained faithful witnesses to Christ. And their faithfulness was costly, especially once the East was overrun by Islam."
They indeed have remained faithful, as have the Churches related to the ancient Patriarchate of Constantinople, and we can use the consensus - despite all "doctrinal dispute"- in faith and practice which exists between these Churches -and the Roman Catholic Church-to elucidate the ancient faith of the Apostles.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bright Week: How the Byzantines roll...

Forgive me.

No offense intended. It just seemed like a great headline.

Thanks to Fr. Joseph and South Carolina's own Fr. Mark:

"Orthodox Prayers During Bright Week"

"May Christ our true God who arose from the dead, and trampled down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowed life, through the intercessions of his most pure Mother and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the lover of mankind."

In a Nutshell...

"A God-Pleasing Life"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Second Sunday of Pascha 2009: St. Thomas Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday

Today, “the Eighth Day,” those of us who celebrated Pascha last Sunday commemorate the appearance of the Risen Lord to St. Thomas: “doubting Thomas”, as recorded in the Gospel of John 20:24-29. Thomas, having not been present when Jesus appeared to other Apostles, told them, “I will not believe unless I see and touch the nail prints in his hands, unless I touch the wound in his side.” So, the next Sunday, the Apostles are together again, and this time, Thomas is there also. Well, guess who shows up? And Thomas indeed is allowed to touch the body, the wounds, of the Risen Lord. And he makes his famous profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replies, “You believe because you see. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Since the ACCA is rooted in the Syriac Tradition of the Indian Church, St. Thomas is special to us. St. Thomas, you see, carried the good news of the risen Christ east, all the way to India, even as Peter, Paul, and other Apostles were going West, all the way to Rome. Hence, the Apostolic Church has been present in India, as in Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, since the First Century of the Christian era; its members in India are known as “Mar Thoma,” that is, “St. Thomas,” Christians.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Those of us who have not seen, why do we believe? First, we believe because we have HEARD. We have believed what we have been told about the risen Christ. And we believe what we have heard because we have experienced the positive change that Christ and His Church has made in the lives of others who came before us, whether parents, other relatives, teachers, pastors, mentors, or friends. And, in believing, or, in some cases, at least suspending disbelief, we have begun to experience for ourselves the transforming, loving power of the Risen Lord Jesus. If we were raised in the faith, perhaps we have never experienced a time when we did not know that the risen Christ was there for us. Or perhaps we have wandered off, like lost sheep, only to be returned to the fold. Wherever we have been, we wait, in hope, for that which we have not seen, but yet, have experienced, as we read in I Peter 1:3-9.

RC Deacon Greg Kandra, in his homily for today, takes as his jumping off point the media sensation caused by a British woman who has indeed got talent: Susan Boyle. He speaks of her as a sign of hope. A similar woman, St. Faustina Kowalska, became a special instrument of the Lord to bring a message of hope to a world desperately seeking it: the message of Divine Mercy. Faustina, born in 1905 of a poor Polish family, sought to pursue the religious life as a nun. She was rejected by many convents. Finally, she was admitted and given menial tasks. She died at age 33, in 1938.

However, she was privileged to both see and converse with both our Lord and his Blessed Mother, and she was given a message, “the gospel we forgot,” as one Polish prelate put it, that of Divine Mercy, a word to which the only appropriate response can be, "My Jesus, I trust in you." After her death, her writings were suppressed by the Vatican, possibly due to bad translation. However, when the future Pope, John Paul II, was Archbishop of Krakow, he was able to convince the Vatican, under Pope Paul VI, to reconsider Sister’s writings, and they were allowed to be promulgated. Finally, John Paul himself both beatified and canonized St. Faustina, and declared that St. Thomas Sunday be observed as Divine Mercy Sunday in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. Deacon Kandra writes:

"I thought of Susan Boyle on Wednesday, when Archbishop Timothy Dolan climbed the pulpit at St. Patrick’s at his installation mass and declared in his first homily: “Everybody is somebody.” Susan Boyle certainly proved that. No matter what others may think, the beautiful truth is that everyone carries the spark of the divine. Every life has meaning and dignity. Everybody is somebody.

"That is why the greatest Somebody, Jesus Christ, surrendered himself on the cross – and why he rose from the dead. And when he finally appeared before his followers after the resurrection, his first message was a word of consolation to all those who feel frightened, or insecure, or alone – whether in that upper room, or in a village in Scotland, or in a walkup in Queens [or in a convent in Poland]: “Peace,” he said. Peace. It was his first gift after he had risen.

"In that same spirit, God continues to offer us another gift -- the one that gives this Sunday its name: Divine Mercy. God’s mercy says to us, very simply, 'You are loved -- no matter what. Because everybody is somebody.'

"I think we get a glimpse of that in today’s gospel. It gives us the familiar scene of Jesus appearing to a doubting Thomas, offering tangible proof that he has risen. 'Put your finger here and see my hands,' Jesus says. 'Bring your hand and put it into my side….do not be unbelieving, but believe.'

"But here, we encounter something the world had never known before: we encounter a God with scars. Wounds. A God who has endured pain, and suffered, and bled.

"That invitation to Thomas is also Christ’s invitation to us: 'See,' he says. 'I have known great pain. I understand.'

"He has walked with us, struggled with us, fallen with us, shed water and blood for us. He did it for you and me. He did it for the Susan Boyles of the world. Those who are hurt, or grieving, or dreaming. He did it for all of us, even those who have wandered away, or who doubt – all of the Thomases among us."

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” St. Paul writes that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of humanity, that the weakness of God stronger than the strength of men. He also writes:
“Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…” (I Cor. 1:26b-28, RSV).

This is the power of the resurrection, manifested in the lives of people like Susan Boyle, a devout Roman Catholic, and St. Faustina, and as manifested in the ministries and martyrdoms of a motley band of Gallilean fishermen, the Apostles, including St. Thomas, to whose number was later added a renegade Rabbi, St. Paul. To the incarnate, crucified, and risen Eternal Son and Word of God, to His Eternal Father, and to the all-Holy, Good, and Lifegiving Eternal Spirit, one God, be glory and honor in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Holy Pascha 2009

"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"

"Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered. Let those who hate him flee from before his face..."

May your celebration of the resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ (whether today or a week from today), be most blessed. Christ is risen! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Week 2009: The Great Sabbath

From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday (as found in an official English translation of the Office of Readings of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church):

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Holy Week 2009: Great and Holy Friday

"And the earth quakes in its pain, to behold its creator slain" - Kergyma, after Byzantine Rite

"In this world Christ was rejected. He was the perfect expression of life as God intended it. The fragmentary life of the world was gathered into his life; He was the heart beat of the world and the world killed him. But in that murder the world itself died. It lost its last chance to become the paradise God created it to be." Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

Fr. Stephen on Good Friday, Western and Byzantine: "From Friday to Friday"

"We have struggled for too long as Christians under the yoke of moralism, in which everything of Christ’s is interpreted in moralistic terms - geared only towards our legal admission into heaven.

"This moralism is a caricature of true Christianity. Were the impacts of Christ’s victory on our existence to be forgotten - the faith would be in danger of its own death. If moralism disappears - it will doubtless be replaced by another. Moralism is simple, useful for judging others, and plays well in a world dominated by its neurotic psychological fantasies.

"To understand instead that sin is death - that it attacks us at the very point of our existence - is a different matter altogether. Humanity stands poised at the edge of an abyss - driven there by its own defiance of God - Who alone gives us life and all things. The daily events on the world stage are only a tragic opera that illustrate the inner drama of our lives. In our hearts we are the insane builders of weapons. We are the suicide bombers (a fitting image for much of our sin)."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Holy Week 2009: Bridegroom Vespers

In the ACCA, as in the Byzantine Rite, there is a special service of Vespers, or Evening Prayer, which is offered on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week, called "Bridegroom Vespers". It is called this because the focus of the service is Jesus' Parable of the Bridegroom, also known as the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.

The Scripture reference is Matthew 25:1-13 (RSV):
[Jesus said,] "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.' And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, `Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, `Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.' Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
This homily was originally given a year ago at St. Demetrios in Knoxville.

In each of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, just prior to the recounting of His death and resurrection, Jesus discusses the Eschaton, the end of history. The approach of the Gospel of John is slightly different, but in all four gospels, one thing is clear: the end of history, “the last days” begins with the execution and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In this parable, the Lord concludes by calling upon us to “watch.” We can know neither the day nor the hour of his appearing. This applies not only to the end of history, to the Lord’s return “in glory to judge both the living and the dead,” but to the moment of our own personal eschaton, our own death. Now we do not know if we shall be alive in the flesh when the Lord returns; however, we do know, barring the Second Coming, that each of us one day will leave this earthly life behind, and for that, we are called to be ready, our lamps full of the oil of the Holy Spirit, and with oil to spare, oil that we have purchased with our very life, in which we have been, and are being, "crucified with Christ". This is indeed our own personal apocalypse, and mine is mine alone, and yours, yours alone.

One major difference between our Tradition and Evangelicalism is that we take very seriously the communitarian aspects of the Christian faith. For us, in one sense, everything begins and ends with the Church. However, within the context of this Community, founded by the Lord himself and enlivened by the burning oil of the Holy Spirit, there is, in another sense, an individual relationship with the Lord that is uniquely mine, uniquely yours. There is a place in my heart, the wedding chamber if you will, the Holy of Holies, where no one can enter but myself and the Lord. In this sense, I cannot share my oil with you, nor you with me. I cannot be baptized for you, nor receive the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit in chrismation on your behalf. I cannot be absolved for your sins, nor you for mine. I cannot receive the Body and Blood of the Lord in your place, nor you in mine.

We can and should pray for each other, but I cannot do your praying for you, nor you for me. Hence, this message to watch, to be ready, to stay awake, is uniquely addressed to each of us as distinct persons. And yet, because the bridegroom is delayed, it is assumed that we will, each of us, fall asleep, only to awaken when the call is given: “The Bridegroom is coming.” Therefore, knowing this, we must, when awake, take care to have stored up for ourselves an adequate supply of oil. This is one reason why the Church gives us the seasons of Lent and Advent, so that, for a few weeks, we might focus on repentance, on acquiring the oil that we need. This is why we are called to fast regularly, usually twice a week, in order to focus more carefully on prayer, and are called, upon all occasions, to give of ourselves, and of our time, talent, and treasure, in service to others.

However, we cannot stress enough that the God-given context for this individual relationship with Christ is the Community of the Church, the very Body of Christ. Indeed, in the Orthodox traditions, temples are designed, on the basis of the old Temple in Jerusalem, with this in mind. Our temples are macrocosms of the microcosmic temple of the heart, and vice-versa. Further, if you keep your individual lamp burning, you will shed its light on us, and will encourage each of us to do the same. While there are some things that only I can do, things that only you can do, there is nothing that I do, that you do, that does not impact the Community, the Church, as a whole, either for good or for ill.

We are a team, but as on every team, each member has his or her own role to play, and each of these roles is indispensable. The Church, this Community, is the Body of Christ, and because we are each “members of Christ,” we are, as St. Paul also writes, “members one of another” just as the Divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “members one of another” from all eternity. Thus, the Church, the Body of Christ, who is "the Last Adam," is humanity re-created in the image and likeness of God and is therefore the ikon of the eternally communitarian Godhead.

Therefore, at the end of the Great Fast, as we prepare to enter into the Passover mystery of our Lord’s death and resurrection, let us, indeed, obtain for ourselves an ever greater measure of this precious oil. If we have not yet gone to Confession during the Fast, let us by all means do so. If we need to reconcile ourselves with someone, let us do that. Whatever the Lord is calling each of us to do in this regard, let us accomplish it, and by all means, let us continue to watch and pray, and to pray for those who have left our community. We are at this moment awake, it may be later than we think, and the Bridegroom is indeed arriving soon. To Him be all glory, honor, power, and worship, together with His unoriginate Father+, and the all-Holy, Good, and Lifegiving Spirit, One God in both worlds unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen.

Also, Fr. Stephen has already posted an excellent meditation on the Bridegroom motiff in the context of Holy Week (even though for the Byzantine Orthodox, Holy Week is next week). In it, Fr. Stephen writes:
"It is time again to forgive one another. If I stand with the humble Bridegroom and hear His words of humility: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (he offers no blame), how can I not with Him readily forgive all who have reason to hate me, or who hate me for no reason at all, or whom I hate (sinner that I am) even though their sins against me justly invite my wrath? Do I even dare to think of justice when the judgment of God looms so near? No, forgiveness can and must be given now! Rush to forgive - tell them quickly that their debt has been reduced or even taken away.

"The coins with which we must purchase oil for our lamps as we follow the Bridegroom into His bridal chamber, can only be obtained by giving away the currency of our self-righteousness and the wealth of our grudges."
It is found here. Do read it all.

"Love covers a multitude of sins."

They're WHAT?

OOPS!

Student editors at Brigham Young University are red-faced today, it seems.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Holy Week 2009: Hosanna Sunday

First Reading (Phil. 2:5-11, RSV):

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Psalm (118:22-26, RSV):

"The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the LORD's doing;it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD has made;let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we beseech thee, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech thee, give us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD."

Gospel (John 12:12-19, RSV)
"The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written, "Fear not, daughter of Zion;behold, your king is coming,sitting on an ass's colt!" His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. The Pharisees then said to one another, "You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him."
"The reason the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign." The sign in question is the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). It is also because of this act on Jesus' part, according to John 11:45-12:11, that Jesus' powerful enemies decide that he must die (and Lazarus too). So, today, on Palm Sunday, Hosanna Sunday, the crowd comes out to acclaim Jesus, but on Friday, that same crowd will cry out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Let us never forget that WE are a part of that crowd: WE crucify the Lord of glory.

And yet, He loves us with an everlasting, infinite love and desires nothing so much than that we love him in return and be united with him forever.

This week:
Pray: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
Go to Confession.
Reflect on the Most Blessed Trinity's everlasting and infinite love for us, "the sheep that had gone astray," revealed in the execution of Jesus Christ the Eternal Word of God.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Saints Perpetua, Felicity, and their Companions, Holy Martyrs

I failed to note it on the blog this year, but last Saturday was the patronal feast of our ministry here in South Carolina. Below is an edited re-post from last year.

March 7 commemorates Saints Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions, who witnessed to the Faith by the shedding of their blood around the year AD 202 in Carthage, North Africa:

Passion of Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs

At the heart of their story is the testimony of St. Felicity as she gave birth in prison:


"But respecting Felicity... when she had already gone eight months with child (for she had been pregnant when she was apprehended), as the day of the exhibition was drawing near, she was in great grief lest on account of her pregnancy she should be delayed,—because pregnant women are not allowed to be publicly punished,—and lest she should shed her sacred and guiltless blood among some who had been wicked subsequently. Moreover, also, her fellow-martyrs were painfully saddened lest they should leave so excellent a friend, and as it were companion, alone in the path of the same hope. Therefore, joining together their united cry, they poured forth their prayer to the Lord three days before the exhibition. Immediately after their prayer her pains came upon her, and when, with the difficulty natural to an eight months' delivery, in the labour of bringing forth she was sorrowing, [a guard] said to her, 'You who are in such suffering now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts, which you despised when you refused to sacrifice?'

And she replied, 'Now it is I that suffer what I suffer; but then there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I also am about to suffer for Him.'

Thus she brought forth a little girl, which a certain sister brought up as her daughter." (5:2)

Charles Williams was of the opinion that in saying this, Felicity was found to have been placed in the ranks of the Doctors of the Church.

"Holy Martyrs of Carthage, Perpetua, Felicity, and Companions, pray to God for us that our souls may be saved."

Lenten Reading

I have just finished a book by Barbara Tuchman, called A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. A work of popular history (Tuchman was self-educated but, for all that, still won a couple of Pulitzers), the book largely draws upon primary sources to deal with the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, fought intermittently over a century and more, almost entirely on French soil. However, it also casts a spotlight across Western Europe and beyond during the period, extending into the 15th Century. The book’s focus is the life of one French nobleman, Enguerrand VI, the last sire of Coucy, a large holding in the North of France, near the English Channel, and a distant ancestor of a future French monarch. As the title implies, Tuchman is writing with an eye toward viewing the contemporary world through the reflection cast upon it by an era long past.

The period in question is characterized by a number of phenomena which are traumatic by any standard: black death (Tuchman takes the conventional view that this was bubonic plague; others have argued, convincingly to me, that the medieval plagues were rather a form of hemorhagic fever, perhaps caused by Ebola or a close viral relative), which reduced population levels by as much as 50 percent over a century; interminable fighting, not only between England and France or between Christendom and Islam, but also in private wars between various nobles, the results of which, through destruction of crops and other disruptions, disproportionately affected the lives of those at the bottom of the socioeconomic pile and therefore least able to cope; openly regressive taxation; popular uprisings; conspicuous consumption by nobles, wealthy merchants, rising bureaucrats, and the upper clergy; widespread sexual profligacy; and so on.

From a Christian point of view, perhaps the most depressing characteristic of this period is the relationship between the Church and the rest of society. While all of society was nominally Christian, few seemed to take the Church's teachings seriously, the only exception perhaps being just prior to death. The Papacy was, for many years, ensconced in the “Babylonian Exile” at Avignon. Since Avignon was in France, and these Popes mostly French, they were largely instruments of French Imperial Policy. On the attempt to return the Papacy to Rome, prompted by St. Catherine of Siena, a longstanding schism was created, resulting in two Popes, one in Avignon, the other in Rome, and all of Western Europe was divided. England and France, of course, were on opposite sides of papal allegiance. From the Pope(s), down to the poorest parish priest, everything the Church had to offer was for sale. This, of course, gave rise to various reform movements, all of them more or less heretical, which prepared the way for Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and the rest, and, providentially, for the reforms of the Council of Trent, two centuries later.

For all that, however, the era was not without signs of hope, primarily manifested in the careers of Saints. Catherine of Siena was one of them. Joan of Arc was another. Besides these, many man and women, religious and lay, worshiped, celebrated and received the sacraments, prayed, fasted, cared for the sick and helped the poor, motivated by their love for the suffering Christ and His sorrowful Mother, manifested in the sufferings of men and women with whom they lived and worked. Inspired and healed by the Holy Spirit, these men and women, of course, are the hope of the world; they were then, and are now. It is because of their prayers and other activities that societies do not collapse into utter chaos. During Lent, inspired by their examples, let us dedouble our efforts to contribute, in whatever way we can, not only to our own salvation, but to the survival, if not the salvation, of the whole world.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Second Sunday in Lent

"The Sunday of the Hemorrhaging Woman."

It is, of course, the FIRST Sunday in Lent in Byzantine Orthodox circles, "The Sunday of Orthodoxy," commemorating all the Councils considered Ecumenical, but in particular, Nicea II (AD 787), which resulted in the suppression of iconoclasm, at least until a form of it was revived in the West in the 15th Century. Apropos of same, Fr. Stephen has a post here, in which he asks:

". . .by whose prayers are you being spared? I know that my unrighteous soul is sustained by the prayers of others. I simply do not know their names (though I have my suspicions). Should any of us be so arrogant as to assume that God’s mercy is not being extended to us through the prayers of others?

"As we should with our guardian angels, thanksgiving should should be offered for these righteous holy saints."
We, of course, have little control over who is praying for us, but we are indeed called to be grateful for their prayers. In addition, my question is: Who am I praying for? Who are you praying for?

At Qurbana each Sunday here, we name many names, both among the living and the departed, beseeching the Lord to remember them for good. In summing up, we always pray:

"Remember all, both among the living and the departed, who have asked for our prayers; those who love us; those who hate us; all those for whom we should pray, including our families, friends and benefactors; and all who are in need of our prayers."

Interceding for others is an integral part of what we are called to do in pursuing our own sanctification.

Today's readings:

Romans 7:14-25: "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Psalm 30:1-4: "O LORD my God, I cried to thee for help, and thou hast healed me."

Mark 5:25-34: "There was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, "If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well." And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who touched my garments?" ....And he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."

Here is another episode in Jesus' healing ministry. What stand out here is that Jesus allows his healing power to be accessed indirectly, without a face-to-face meeting. The woman, like so many of us, thinks, "He is so busy. He would not have time for me." But yet, she still has faith that healing is possible, that the Lord will allow this to happen. And so he does. But he does not stop there. He seeks the woman out to reassure her, to make the exchange explicit. He does this because He desires, first and foremost, for an encounter of communion with the woman, as with each of us. He wants to meet me, to meet you, face-t0-face. However, he doesn't require this up front if we are not ready for it. He makes this possible for the woman by healing her, as it were, by stealth, and then seeking communion with her. It does not matter to the Lord which comes first, healing or communion, because he seeks to both heal us and bring us into communion with him; knowing this, however, inspires us to seek to encounter him directly. To Him be glory forever.