Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The 25th Anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood

I hate to toot my own horn on this, but today, August 26, 2020 is the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  It took place in Columbia, South Carolina, in the borrowed sanctuary of a Lutheran congregation (Lutheran congregations are often the best friends that Independent Sacramental Movement jurisdictions have.)  As we held the service, the remnants of a tropical storm made things interesting outside and because of that storm, few were in attendance.  However, my wife and two daughters were present, along with someone I'd gone to college with at the College of Charleston and a few others, including an Anglican priest and the then-pastor of the Lutheran congregation who hosted us and some of our employees who worked for the business that my wife and I were then running.

The altar of the Chapel of SS Felicity and Perpetua
in my home in Summerville SC.

The man who remains my primary bishop, Victor Mar Michael Herron, now head/or "Metran" of our jurisdiction, the Antiochian Catholic Church in America, ordained me to the priesthood as he had ordained me to the diaconate the previous September.  The Eucharist, or Qurbana, was the Liturgy of St. James, the ACCA's normal liturgy, and this particular Mass was celebrated in honor of St. Titus who, along with St. Timothy and others, was a bishop who came immediately after the Apostles.  His memorial day on the ACCA's calendar is August 25.  We also celebrated St. Moses the Ethiopian,  an enslaved thug who became a monk and then, a martyr.  We celebrate him on Aug 28.  My wife read the First Reading, which is from St. Paul's letter to Titus, Titus 1:1-9 (RSV):

"Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised ages ago and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by command of God our Savior; To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and ordain presbyters in every town as I directed you, if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate.  For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."

 I led the psalm and read the Gospel.  Mar Michael preached and said some nice things about me which was very gracious of him.  After the Creed, he called me to the altar where I knelt with head and hands on the altar, in the Byzantine manner, as I had done when I was ordained a deacon.  Mar Michael then ordained me to the priesthood, laying his hands on my head over his stole, which was draped over my head, and saying:

"The Divine Grace, which always heals that which is infirm, and completes that which is wanting, elevates through the laying on of hands the Deacon Gregory to be a priest.  Wherefore, let us pray for him that the grace of the all-holy Spirit may come upon him."

Mar Michael then offered the two prayers which follow in the Byzantine Rite for the ordination of a priest.  He then bade me rise and give the greeting of peace to the congregation present.  I did and all exchanged the peace with each other. 

Mar Michael then handed the liturgy off to me and I celebrated my first Eucharist, administering Holy Communion to my family and others who wished to receive.  At the end of the liturgy, Mar Michael led those present in "Many Years" and "Axios!"

So I have been an Orthodox-Catholic Christian priest now for 25 years, serving in a single micro-jurisdiction which believes, teaches, and practices the Apostolic Faith according to the non-chalcedonian Indo-West Syriac tradition.  Through a series of serendipitous events leading up to my affiliating with the ACCA and being ordained a deacon, I believe that the Lord led me to this particular jurisdiction and I intend to stay with it until the end of my life. 

What do we mean when we speak of this no-chalcedonian tradition?  Well, most importantly, I think, it has to do with how we understand the Incarnation, the Divine Essence, the Human Essence, and the interrelationship of these. There is much to meditate upon here, but the first thing is (and I do not intend to state that Chalcedonians cannot or do not believe any of this as well, although sadly, it is usually not packaged together like this in the West, and the Eastern Orthodox?  Well, at least one EO theologian, the late Fr. John Meyendorff, called the EO "crypto-monophysite"), the Divine Essence is inherently communal.  God the "Father" then, in one eternal (timeless) act, an action with no beginning and no ending, generates, "gives birth to," or "begets" the Eternal Son and Word and, simultaneously in that same act, breathes forth the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, "proceeding from the Father," "rests upon the Son" as we see in the baptism of the Lord Jesus in the Jordan.   This has to do with what is called the "economic Trinity," the triune God as revealed in the Divine Acts of Creation, the Incarnation, and the rest, that which is called "salvation history".  Another image used is that the Son/Word and the Holy Spirit are "the two hands" of the Father in creation and the remaining events of God's actions to, finally, divinize the cosmos and to become "all-in-all" and "everything to everyone" within the cosmos.

However, "prior" (logically or structurally, not chronologically) to this act, the Word and Spirit are found in the "bosom" of the Father and this Divine Triad here have a relationship, communion of the greatest intimacy.  This is the "immanent Trinity," in which each Divine Person is constituted of the other two, in which there is no "inner" or "outer" but each is completely transparent to the other two.  This communion is pictured, in the economic Trinity, as a relationship called "Perichoresis," or "dancing around," which pictures the three in an eternal circle-dance.  But however difficult it may be to visualize, this circle is always open to the inclusion of humans in order to expand the Divine Community and so that we might become by grace and adoption what the Divine Persons are by nature.

But the possibility for this has to do with human essence as created by the Divine Persons in the first place.    Humanity, both as a species and as distinct persons, is created in the "Image and Likeness of God".  While it is distorted by the fall, the human essence remains inherently communal.  It is also "capable of God."  Thus, the Incarnation is possible and, through that, our own deification is possible and this restores our relationship with the Divine Persons, but also, with the rest of humanity in Christ, who is both God and human.

One specific thing here should be noted.  In all the Christological debates in the early centuries of the Church and even now to some extent, the discussions often make it seem that Christology is a zero-sum game.  What I mean by that is that it seems in many cases, when the humanity of Christ is emphasized, there seems to be a concurrent de-emphasis of Christ's deity.  The opposite is also often true.  But this, I think, is incorrect.  As I see it, emphasizing Christ's deity also elevates humanity (His and ours) because it demonstrates that humanity is capable of incarnating a Divine Person and, through that, becoming deified on a wider scale and, through the life, death, and resurrection of this one Divine-human Person, deifying the entire creation.

Thus, to sum it up, the bottom line for me is that "I have no problem with believing and seeing that Jesus Christ is truly human as I am, and I do not doubt that he is also Divine.  I am concerned, not that Jesus is human like me, but that I become human like Jesus."  And yes, that means partaking of the Divine Nature through him in that his humanity, and mine, is fully realized through his being, first, God, the Second Divine Person.  So I thank the Lord Jesus, today and every day, for joining Himself to the human race and, by sharing the fullness of the human experience even unto death and then, rising again to die no more, sharing His Divine Life with us in His Body, the Church, via the work of the Holy Spirit in eliciting faith and allowing us to participate in the sacraments, the holy mysteries.  I thank Him, today especially, for the gift of the priesthood and for having had the honor and privilege of exercising it for the past 25 years. 

To the Lord Jesus, Eternal Son and Word of God born of the Father before all ages +, to God the Unoriginate Father, and to God the All-Holy, Good, and Live-giving Spirit, proceeding from the Father and resting upon the Son, be all glory, honor, and worship, both now and ever, in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons.  Amen!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Homily for Epiphany Sunday, January 5, 2020

As I stated previously, these homilies are not being posted in chronological order.  I have two other previous homilies that I need to move off my phone onto my PC, upload and post here, along with the text, as well.  But for now, however, here is the homily for Epiphany Sunday, 2020.  Note that this is a Western Rite context, using the lectionary of the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer, so what is being celebrated is the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child.  Following this lectionary, we will celebrate the Baptism of the Lord in two weeks, on January 19, 2020 (which also happens to be the Feast of the Epiphany/Theophany - Baptism of the Lord for the Eastern Orthodox who follow the "old" Julian Calendar).

First, of course, the link to the recorded sermon:

Homily for Epiphany Sunday 2020

Readings:  Ephesians. 3:1-12 St. Matthew 2:1-12

And the text:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Good Morning.  Happy Epiphany Sunday!

So before we look at Epiphany, “the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles,” I first want to consider a few other things.  First, on a personal note, my wife and I celebrate our wedding anniversary from Christmas Day through Epiphany, January 6.  We were married in a civil ceremony on December 25, 1983 in Mount Pleasant, at the home of my in-laws, by a local judge who was a friend of my father-in-law’s.  We then had our marriage blessed on Epiphany, 12 days later, by an Episcopal priest in Racine Wisconsin, the place where we were taking up residence.  Susan and my step-daughter, Larkin, were also baptized prior to that ceremony.  We had a couple of reasons for doing things this way, but a big one was so that both of our families could witness a marriage ceremony.  Even then, however, my father was too ill to travel to Wisconsin from Montana, but mom came, along with an uncle.  My father would die a little less than a month later.

I would also ask your prayers this morning for a good man who has departed this life.  His name was Geoffrey.  Please pray also for his widow, Tita.  Thank you.   We also remember this morning Dorothy, Fr. Steven's great-grand-aunt, who also died very recently.

So I wanted to share that with you.  But before we consider Epiphany, I want to at least mention some celebrations that have occurred on the Church Kalendar since Christmas.  December 26 is St. Stephen’s Day.  St. Stephen, of course, one of the original deacons of the Church, was also its first martyr after Pentecost, the first martyr of the Church era per se.  The involvement of Saul, later  St. Paul, in his death foreshadows his conversion on the road to Damascus and his role as “Apostle to to the Gentiles.

December 27 commemorates St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, known as St. John "the Theologian” in the East or, even earlier in the West, “St. John the Divine.”  This title is not given out in the East willy-nilly.  There are three Saints that bear it:  John, Gregory of Nazianzen, and then, a few centuries later, Symeon the New Theologian.  These three are are known of the profundity of their teaching which is rooted in their experience of God.  John teaches concerning the Deity of Christ, Gregory, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, of the Trinity, and Symeon concerning the experience of the Holy Spirit.  John, of course, is the Apostle associated with the gospel that bears his name, the one whose sublime prologue concerning the Incarnation of God the Word we read at the end of every Mass.  It is said that he was the only Apostle who was not martyred, that lived almost to the end of the First Century and, at the end of his life, authored, besides the gospel, also the three epistles that bear his name well as the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse.

On December 28, the murder of the Holy Innocents is commemorated.

December 29 is the celebration of St. Thomas a’Becket, Saint Thomas of Canterbury.  His martyrdom occurred in AD 1170.  Thomas came from a noble family and he was a good friend of the King of England, Henry II.  Prior to being made the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas had served the King as Chancellor of the Realm, a job that included collecting taxes for the King, not only from other nobles and institutions, but also from the Church.  Somewhere along the line and for whatever reason, Thomas has received clerical tonsure and minor orders so he was eligible to become Archbishop.   Following the procedure of the time, he was elected Archbishop of Canterbury.  He was then ordained to the priesthood and, a day later, consecrated bishop.  His reign, however, would be short-lived, only eight or so years.  He experienced a real conversion of heart and life in becoming Archbishop.  If the King expected that he would be nothing but a royal puppet, the King was in for a rude awakening.  Against the King, Thomas fought for the rights of the Church against the monarchy and state.

Eventually, the King is said to have stated those fateful words in front of some of his knights, indicating the King’s desire that he “be rid of this troublesome priest.”  Taking the King’s words as a royal command, the knights rode to Canterbury and, on December 29, 1170, killed the Archbishop within the walls of the cathedral, possibly as he was departing the altar after Mass.

Thomas, martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, died in defence of the rights of the Church against the State.  Any state.  This does not mean that the Church should be supreme over the state, but it does mean that the state cannot simply use the Church, or any religious institution, as a governmental agency.  It is significant, I think, that the Oxford Movement, which has influenced Anglicanism perhaps more than anything else since the Reformation, began as a defense of the independence of the Church from the State in Great Britain.

The death of Jesus Christ, his unjust legal execution, carried out by the State, means that the State, by its gross overreach, can no longer in any sense claim divine status.  The State is indeed instituted by God, but it is always only the servant of God for the creation and maintenance of the common good.  It can never claim control over anyone’s spiritual life.

The words put in Thomas’ mouth by various literary treatments of these events ring true, his pledge to serve the King in all things, “except the honor of God.”  We read in Scripture both that we are to obey the government and that, should the government or anyone else in authority attempt to compel us to disobey God that “we ought to obey God rather than men.”
Then, on January 1, depending on the tradition, the Circumcision of Christ is celebrated.  Closely related to this is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, since the Bris in Judaism is also a naming ceremony.  In his circumcision, Jesus sheds his blood for the first time.  As far as his Name goes, we know that it was given Him by God the Father through the angel Gabriel because, the angel said, “He will save His people from their sins.”  “Jesus” literally means, “Yah” as in the Sacred Name of God, “is salvation”.  But what does “Yah” mean?  It means “I AM” as in “I AM WHO AM”  or “I AM WHO I AM.”  This Name, usually applied to Jesus, has found its way into the Byzantine Rite in the form of “He Who Is.”  So then, Jesus fully means, “I am salvation.”  Once again, we see that even in His Name, the Deity of Jesus is implicitly stated.

And that brings us to the Epiphany.  In the West, it is associated primarily with the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child.  However, in the early centuries of the Church, at least in some places, it was a celebration, first, of the birth of Christ, the visit of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ, and the Wedding at Cana.  It is today the celebration of the Baptism of Christ in the Eastern Rites, and we will talk about that in a couple of weeks and also, we will bless water, as is done on Epiphany, or Theophany as the Byzantines call it, in the Byzantine Rite.

But what of the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child?  First, we note that they came “from the East”, from the land of the Chaldees according to tradition.  This is the land of the city of Ur from whence Abraham hailed and from which he set forth at the call of God.  So these men, seeking the revelation of God in the Christ Child, recapitulate the journey of Abraham to the land that he was promised.  They bring gifts which are symbolic of Christ’s three-fold office as prophet, priest, and king.

In their coming, they represent the nations of the world.  With the shepherds, members of the people of Israel, Christ is first revealed to the Jews.  Here, with the Magi, Christ is revealed to the nations, and, as Abraham became the founder of the people of God in making this journey from Ur to the shores of the Mediterranean, so these men, the astrologers and philosophers, are joined the people of God by their journey from that same land to the land of promise, the land and people of the birth of Jesus the Messiah or Christ.

So this brings us to a very important point:  With Abraham, with Moses, with the Israelite priesthood, with the prophets, we find a direct supernatural revelation of God and of salvation history.  In paganism, we find an indirect revelation, primarily built upon the workings of nature.  But the pre-incarnate Christ is the source of both.  Christ is the Logos, the “Word” of God, the conscious matrix, a person, through which and upon which all of the cosmos is created and continues in existence through the operation of the Divine Holy Spirit, who is, in the words of Irenaeus, “the other hand of the Father,” the first hand of the Father, of course, being the Logos.

Regarding the Logos, the Word and Son of God:   the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews reads, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.”

And in Colossians, Chapter 1: 15-20:  “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

And also, in Ephesians Chapter 2:  “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”

Christ is the fulfillment of both the direct revelation given to Judaism and the indirect revelation found in paganism.  In manifesting Himself as the eternal Word and Son, the Logos, of God, Jesus reveals a new synthesis and by his death and resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit, he creates a new, single body of people where once two existed.  This community is His body, the Church, in which there is no longer Jew or Greek.  All are one in Him, Christ Jesus being incorporated into Him by water and the Holy Spirit and by participation in the Holy Eucharist.  The magi are the first of the gentiles to witness to that of what Symeon speaks when, upon seeing the Christ Child, he exclaims:  “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;  For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see:  A Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.”

To Him, the Eternal Incarnate Son and Word of God, as God born of the Father before ages and, as human, of His Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary Theotokos in these last days, Jesus Christ our Lord, together with His unoriginate Father and the All-Holy, Good, and Life-Creating Spirit, One God, be all glory, honor, and worship, both now and ever and unto the Aeon of aeons.  Amen.