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.

Monday, March 2, 2009

First Sunday in Lent

Well, since today, Monday, is "Clean Monday" in the Byzantine Orthodox Churches, as of today, everybody's in Lent. For the ACCA, Lent began last Monday, and yesterday was the First Sunday in Lent for us, "the Sunday of the Leper".

The Readings:
Romans 6:12-23: "Do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies...The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Psalm 142: 1,2, 6,7: "I cry to the Lord...bring me out of prison that I may give thanks to thy name."

Mark 1:40-45: "A leper came to Jesus beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean."

Lent is the pre-eminent season of repentance, of returning to the Lord. We are called to this, not only by the Church, through the calendar, but by our need. We find ourselves unable, of our own strength, to free ourselves from sin, from the passions which drive us, addict us, sicken us, alienate us from ourselves and our communities. We find ourselves in prisons of our own making. We discover that spritually, we are lepers, suffering with a disease that, unless healed, will completely destroy us. But when we turn, when we re-turn to the Lord, we know that he will, that he will heal us. We fail in fasting. The Lord will heal us. We struggle with prayer, with the giving of ourselves by way of our time, talent, and treasure. He will heal us. But we must come. So let us come, knowing he loves humanity and that with him, not only are all things possible, but that he desires nothing more greatly than to make us whole, if we would but let him. To him be glory forever.