Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent and Commemoration of St. Andrew

One of the ways in which the ACCA manifests the Western Christianity in its DNA is by the fact that it celebrates Advent as a season which is only four weeks long as opposed to the six weeks which are the general norm for the Eastern Christian rites. However, like our more mainstream brothers and sisters of the West Syriac rite in the Indian Orthodox Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Maronite Church, the focus of our Advent observance is upon the “Happy Announcements” which precede the birth in the flesh of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ. As it happens this year, the First Sunday of Advent and St. Andrew’s day coincide. This is not entirely problematic, given that St. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, is the “first called” of the Apostles (John 1:35-42) and it is he, Andrew, who introduces Peter, who eventually becomes the first, the leader, of the Apostles, to the Lord. We also note that Andrew first encounters Jesus through John the Baptizer, the forerunner, whose mission it was to announce the coming of the “Lamb of God,” the Messiah.

The main focus of today’s Gospel reading (Luke 1:5-25) for this First Sunday of Advent is the announcement made to Zechariah, the Baptizer’s father, that he, Zechariah, an elderly man married to an elderly woman, Elizabeth, was about to become a father for the first time. Now Zechariah was a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, and it had fallen upon him to enter the Holy Place to offer incense, as was done twice daily. As Zechariah is burning incense before the Lord, an angel, who turns out to be Gabriel, appears to him. Gabriel tells Zechariah, that this child, this firstborn son, is to be called John. Gabriel continues:

“And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth;
for he will be great before the Lord,
and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink,
and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother's womb.
And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli'jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Zechariah does not believe the angel and is made unable to speak until the child is born.

But then, of course, John IS born, Zechariah’s power of speech is restored, and he speaks prophetically of the newborn laying before him:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people,
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies,
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers,
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath which he swore to our father Abraham,
to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."

We find these events foretold in one of the Old Testament readings given for this Sunday, Malachi 3:1-4: “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.”

So John comes “in the spirit and power of Elijah” to “prepare the way of the LORD.” Who is “the LORD”? None other than the eternal God, “the Holy One of Israel”. The Messiah is the Eternal God come in flesh and blood. He is “Emmanuel,” “God-with-us”. He is the “Word of the Lord” who comes to Jeremiah and all the prophets, who comes as “the Son of Adam” to the Apostles.

In the other Old Testament reading given for this Sunday, Jeremiah 1:4-9, the LORD calls the prophet Jeremiah, who, like John the Baptizer, is consecrated before his birth to see the living God and to announce what he has seen. Jeremiah, like all prophets, including John and his father, Zechariah, has “the word of God” placed in his mouth. This is reminiscent of our Lord’s words to the Apostles, “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:17)

Apostles, who are themselves prophets, are sent to speak in the power of God, to speak as they are given to do so. As St. Paul writes in the reading from Romans (10: 10-18) for St. Andrew, “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news” and, from Psalm 19: “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world”. They, too, speak of what they have seen, heard, experienced, their encounter with God, God with a human face. Over these 2,000 years, their message has come down to us in the Church, and we have heard and responded. In responding, we too experience the living God.

Advent, the season of arrival, the time of announcement, is a hinge upon which, in the present, swings past and future. The Lord who comes to us today in Word and Mystery, in proclamation and celebration, is He who has come and is to come. He has come in creation, in the encounter with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; He has come in the giving of the law, in the calling of the prophets. He has come as Jesus the Messiah. The Kingdom is present because the King is present: “change your minds and believe the Good News!” If we do so, then we too will be empowered to speak, to tell what we have seen and heard, to announce what we have experienced; in so doing, we will know that the Spirit of our Father speaks through us.

(Scripture quotations are from the RSV)

Happy Nameday, Andreas Mar Cassian! Many years!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

It is quiet this early Thanksgiving morning here in central South Carolina, the sun rising above the trees outside my east-facing window immediately to my left, and yes, Khouria Susan, it's a little chilly. The turkey is cooking, and Susan is resting. Junior was unable to come home from Chicago and my brother-in-law and his family were also unable to come down from Virginia. However, our older daughter will join us a bit later, so Thanksgiving this year will be small, just the three of us.

As I have done so many times at quiet holiday moments, I am wandering a bit through old memories, memories of Thanksgivings past, celebrations in my native Northeast Montana, in Milwaukee during my largely misspent college career, memories of other times and other places.

One such memory, from the Marquette/Milwaukee years, involves the microwaving of a turkey at a favorite Wells Street watering hole, Jim Hegarty’s Irish Pub. After an hour or two and many beers later, we then took it home, to our dilapidated college student ghetto flat, and put it in the oven for a while. In the end, that was one tough, undercooked bird. A great memory, but a lousy meal. Other memories, from childhood, have to do with inviting neighbors, three retired bachelor farmers (only one of whom was Norwegian), to share our family table. That made six: mom, dad, yours truly, and Ray, John, and Herman. There was snow on the ground and it was more than “a little chilly”, but that was always the case at Thanksgiving, fifteen miles south of the Canadian border, with nothing but a couple of barbed wire fences between us and the North Pole, a mere 2,500 miles away.

Another set of memories, sparked by Deacon Greg Kandra, are not related specifically to the holiday of Thanksgiving. Deacon Greg has posted, here, a clip from “Godspell”, a production made possible by the Jesus Revolution of the early 1970’s, the latter a phenomenon that shaped my life profoundly, as did the related neo-Pentecostalism of Charismatic Renewal. What is fascinating to me is the extent to which these movements continue to impact American Christianity up until this moment, from the upheavals within Anglicanism to the resurgence of Eastern Orthodoxy to the ever-shifting foci within Roman Catholicism to the founding of the Charismatic Episcopal Church and similar Independent Catholic bodies as well as the emergence of Churches such as the ACCA.

One specific memory that I have in this regard concerns a prayer group/Bible study hosted by a Roman Catholic couple in my hometown, Scobey “Lake Wobegone” Montana. They had been introduced to charismatic renewal by way of the Cursillo movement. I was 14 or 15 at the time, and this prayer group included, at various times, Methodists, Lutherans, members of the Assemblies of God and even, from time to time, my own father, an Evangelical Wesleyan, who consistently cast a decidedly jaundiced eye at mainstream denominations, especially the Roman Catholic Church. On this particular evening, I do not recall who was present, except for the host couple; however, at some point, in walked a Roman Catholic priest, a native of the area, and his father. I had never encountered a priest so closely before. He said little but, as I recall, prayed profoundly. Something stirred within me: a calling. I did not know how or where this calling would be played out, but somehow, at a very deep level that was only semi-conscious, I knew. I was called: this Charismatic, Evangelical Jesus Freak nerd, a son of the radical Reformation if there ever was one, was being called to the sacerdotal priesthood.

Years later, my colleague, Andreas Mar Cassian, and I were discussing our respective youths, his in East Tennessee, mine in NE Montana. He was raised Baptist. Avva Andreas asked me, “What did you want to be when you were 14?” “A priest,” I replied. “Me too,” he said.

Of course, it all seems so much more clear-cut in retrospect. However, on that Winter night, in an aging mobile home in NE Montana, a seed was most definitely planted.

And there were other seeds: having a pastor introduce me to Ignatius of Antioch from the pulpit of the Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation which was my primary church home as a child and teenager; attending a Latin wedding Mass; and, at age 7, encountering the witness of a large, devout Roman Catholic family, especially through its sons who were close to me in age and who, even though very young themselves, were willing and quite able to explain to me the basics of the Apostolic Faith in its Roman Catholic iteration, including, as I vividly recall, the three types of baptism: water, desire, and blood. I have long since lost touch with them, Brian, Johnny, and Michael, but I pray for them regularly, and I hope they have perservered in their faith.

For all of this, and for so much more, especially for my family, friends both past and present, and for my Church, I give thanks this day. Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may God remember us all in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Paulos Mar Gregorios

Monday, November 24, was the 12th anniversary of the repose of Paulos Mar Gregorios, a metropolitan bishop of the Indian Orthodox Church and a world class scholar, ecumenist, and humanitarian. Fr. Theodosius has a tribute here as well as several posts relating to Mar Gregorios, including excerpts from his writings, here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Deacon comes to realize his true vocation...

Writer David Hunter, formerly Deacon Micah in ACCA circles, has requested and received laicization with the Metran's blessing. Hunter says he realized his true vocation lies in writing. He has published several novels, many inspired by his experience as a law enforcement officer, and writes a weekly column for the Knoxville New-Sentinel. In the column linked below, he mentions the recent death of Jimbo, one of the men who was a regular guest at St. Demetrios' soup kitchen:

"Helping the Least of These"

Note: the intial reference to "St. Michael's" should be to "St. Demetrios", as the column itself later makes clear.

Also, after Jimbo's death, friend of the ACCA Chad Huskey realized he had some video footage of Jimbo from St. Demetrios, and he used it to make a tribute, which is embedded below. The initial text in the video is from an E-mail written by the Metran, Victor Mar Michael, and the occasion was when the youth of Chad's Church, Forest Grove Free Will Baptist, prepared and served a meal for the homeless at St. Demetrios:

Memory eternal!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

So sad, so very, very sad...

"Monks brawl at Christian Holy Site in Jerusalem"

This is not the first time something like this has happened, and it probably won't be the last.

"For the peace of the whole world, for the welfare of the holy Churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord."
Kyrie Eleison -
Great litany, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dorothy Day's 111th Birthday today. Deacon Greg Kandra has a tribute, including an interesting story about Day and the Eucharist. (The anniversary of her repose is Nov. 29.)

"Happy Birthday, Dorothy Day"

Back in 2000, Day, who fell asleep in the Lord in 1980, was found to have been a "Servant of God". In the Roman Church, such a finding is the first step on the path to being declared a Saint.

Friday, November 7, 2008

After the Election, Some Issues for Consideration...

As a priest, I believe that it would have been inappropriate of me, at least in a public forum such as this, to indicate a preference for a particular candidate. However, I feel no such reticence when it comes to writing about specific issues of importance to me, nor do I believe I am constrained by tax law in expressing my opinion on these matters. It does go without saying, however, that I speak only for myself, and not for the ACCA, in the following:

First, two “action alerts” from Consistent Life Network. The first item is a link to a petition to Obama and Company, from Sojourners, pledging prayer and asking that the Obama administration, among other things, work to reduce abortion and to work, in general, to promote a “culture of life”, which gets away from the death penalty and which works to alleviate poverty. The second concerns the need to oppose FOCA, the Freedom of Choice Act, which would outlaw many existing restrictions on abortion.

Finally, there is a proposal which bears a very similar name, the Employees Free Choice Act, but which merits the support of Christians and other people of good will. Already passed by the House, this law, which Obama will sign once it is passed by the Senate, would facilitate efforts by workers to organize themselves into unions and would restrict employer harassment in this regard. Union members not only earn more, but are also more productive than non-union members. For more on this, go here.

An Open Letter to Barack Obama

John L. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, a well-respected writer for a publication that is not well-respected in some circles, has written an open letter to the President-Elect, explaining that, differences notwithstanding, the "Vatican...believes that the United States is its most natural ally in promoting religious freedom and human dignity around the world", even a United States led by someone with whom it differs on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Allen concludes by saying:

"For what it’s worth, Mr. President-Elect, my advice is to get on the phone if the pope calls. Better yet, initiate the conversation yourself. You might be surprised about where it goes."

Read it all and you can also check out comments from Fr. John "Save the Liturgy Save the World" Zuhlsdorf here.

Too bad none of the Orthodox patriarchs, Byzantine or Oriental, are also heads of state.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The President-Elect wants to hear from you...

"An American Moment"

With some trepidation, I am leaving comments open on this post; however, please confine any comments here to reactions to this particular initiative and its creative use of technology. Use the link to express opinions on other matters to the Obama transition team itself. Thanks.