Light in the Darkness . . .

Trinity 2023 Fr. Geromel

We might wonder where the Holy Trinity is in our readings today. I certainly have.

A one-year Roman Lectionary in the last century or so, it seems, has Matthew 28 (Go therefore into all nations baptizing them in the Name of. . .) for its Trinity Sunday Gospel. This is much more clearly Trinitarian. It is one of two explicit references to the Holy Trinity. The other we use for Morning and Evening Prayer, “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore.” These are explicit references.

So where is He, the Holy Trinity, in these two lessons?

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”


“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

These two reference the Holy Trinity implicitly, not explicitly, as in the first two quotes.

The “Lord God Almighty” is thrice Holy. He was, and is, and is to come. While all three Persons are referenced in this “was, and is, and is to come.” I am hesitant to say that “was” is the Father and “is” is the Son and “to come” is the Holy Spirit, although there is kind of a way that makes sense. I am also not supposed to say that the first Holy is the Father, and the Second Holy is the Son, and the third Holy is the Holy Spirit. The Athanasian Creed says that “And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another.” So “is”, “was”, “is to come” cannot mean that, nor the first Holy, second Holy, third Holy. All are Holy, All “was”, “is” and “is to come.” But there is a certain artist sense in which one can talk about these things without heresy immediately being present, I should think.

The second quote very much implies the Trinity, and it is talking about Baptism. Watch this. You cannot be born without a Father, the Son became Flesh and dwelt among us to be our life (water is life) and the Holy Spirit is Spirit. So “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Implies the operation of the Holy Trinity, but it is a stretch, you can be sure.

But there is another way that our Scriptures point to the Trinity by way of the Sacramental, the outward and visible images revealing the inward and spiritual Holy Trinity.

You see in Revelation all sorts of natural imagery: Lightnings and Thunderings. You see Four Living Creatures. Twenty-four Elders. You see the manifested Glory of God. But God, my friends, is One. “And One Sat on the Throne.” That One is very important. It isn’t Christ seated on the Throne, or the Father, or the Holy Spirit – although we say that Christ is seated at the Right Hand of the Father, yet here this is only One on the throne, but there are many manifestations of His supreme and un-reproduceable Glory.

For Jewish Scholars, there is much here to contemplate, and for us as well. There are many numbers. When it comes to heavenly Wisdom, there is much in the Numbers. Ezekiel and His Temple is to be contemplated. There are numbers for dimensions there to be considered. There are dimensions to be considered in Noah’s Ark. All sorts of things to ponder and to get insight from. This is the Jewish Study of Kabala in its most raw and basic form. Twenty-Four Elders. Four Living Creatures. Seven-Spirits of God. There are more numbers later in Revelation.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, one of the great scholars, great scribes. But Jesus points out to him that he doesn’t even know how babies are born. “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? . . . If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” Nicodemus could probably quote a bunch of opinions as to all sorts of things from biblical prophesies about heavenly things, including dimensions and whatnot concerning Ezekiel’s temple or Noah’s ark. But Nicodemus couldn’t figure out a basic heavenly thing like, what is it to be born again?

St. Paul says, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. (There were plenty of noises in that heavenly vision, lightnings and thunderings, but there was love and charity behind it, because God was there.) And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 12:31-13:2)

Nicodemus had a lot of knowledge, and understood a lot of mysteries, probably had a lot of faith, but he didn’t understand charity, love. Why did he not understand?

Because He did not, yet, understand the Trinity. So his knowledge garbled up his knowledge of heavenly things, because Nicodemus did not yet realize that perfect love is exhibited in the perfect love that the Persons of the Trinity have for one another, and how, in overflowing love, they love that which they have created. And loving that, they are willing to remake it, rebirth it, through water and the Spirit, making all things new.

So do we believe that the Holy Trinity is the True and Living God because it is revealed in Holy Scripture? Absolutely. But, as we have seen, this is pretty hard to get to. The most important revelation in the Bible is God and God is the Holy Trinity, but only two verses explicitly tell us of the Holy Trinity. Everything else, everything else, abounds in implying it. Every Word of the Bible is a Word of Love, and Perfect Love is the Holy Trinity. So, ergo, all of the Holy Bible speaks of the Holy Trinity.

Yet, as you can see, it’s all a bit of a stretch and pretty sketchy, what we’ve looked at so far. So now we come to Creeds and Councils. We are not a Bible-Only Church. That will lead you to heresy every time. The Anglican Catholic Church is a Biblical Church, a Confessional Church, a Creedal Church, a Conciliar Church. The Bible requires all three other things. The Councils give us the Confessions and the Creeds.

C.B. Moss in his short work, “The Church of England and the Seventh Council” says this:

“The Church has no right to enforce what cannot be proved by Scripture, and to require its members to accept its judgment. ‘No prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation’ (2 Peter 1:20). For the Church is not an academic society for theological research; it is an army marching to win the human race for Christ. There are some questions which, once they have been asked, must be answered, and answered finally. . . . If local councils cannot, a General Council must be held. But its decisions require to be accepted by the Universal Church, which is the final judge. Councils can be misled: no assembly of men is immune to the possibility of error, as history abundantly shows. When the decrees of a Council have been accepted by the whole Church, or practically the whole Church, the question is settled.”[1]

Now, I want to make one or two more quick points about what Moss has just said, and then sum things up and be done.

The first is that we are not a Papal Church and the problem with what some call “Popery” (Roman Catholicism in its most ultramontane – papal power – way) is that it makes Scripture of “private interpretation” almost as foolishly as an armchair theologian on his couch deciding the interpretation of Scripture. It is not safe. It is not, actually, loving (more on that in a second). It’s about power and power is not love.

The next is that when we talk about Councils, we do not mean, “take council together” as in “dialogue” as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. In the Mainline Churches, almost all of them completely corrupted now, sadly, by Heresy, they have taken to this notion that we must “dialogue” about the Truth. That is not loving either, because what happens is that we dialogue about stuff until all the traditionalists are dead and gone, or until we shove all the older clergy out, or until everybody is so mind numbed by all the papers that have been written and the way in which we have tied ourselves in knots by “dialoguing” ad nauseum about the issue so that the traditionalists just start waving a white flag or leave the mainline denomination lest they have to read yet another ridiculous paper or go to another conference to “dialogue.”

C.B. Moss again, “[W]e do not know, before a Council is held, or for some time, perhaps a long time, afterwards, whether it is a true General Council or not. We do not accept the dogmas because they were decreed by the Councils: we accept the Councils, because, in the permanent judgment of the Universal Church, their definitions were necessary to the traditional faith as recorded in Holy Scripture. So we recognize two tests of a General Council; its dogmatic definitions must be necessary conclusions from Holy Scripture, and this must be recognized over a long period, by the Universal Church.”[2]

There are many little councils, false councils, councils we have forgotten about in our History Books, but what makes the Seven Ecumenical Councils really worthy of note is that love was revealed, despite the lightnings and thunderings. God was on His throne. A General Council wasn’t a council of one, nor of just of that time, but the people in the pews received eventually and acknowledged a true council as from the Holy Spirit, leading the Church into all truth, just as much as the Popes and Patriarchs, the Bishops and Priests and Deacons, and Monks and Nuns. What did they see these Councils as Doing? Confirming the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the very Word of God, the Councils reveal Divine Love. It reveals the One Church in the Many Parts, in loving agreement one with another, which reflects the One God in the Three Persons, on earth as it is in heaven.

The vision we have in Revelation is often said to be a revelation of the Mass, the Liturgy. But, if we look at it another way, it is an image of a General Council. There are twenty-Four Elders, Bishops we might say, humbling themselves before the throne. There are lightnings and thunderings as happens whenever people come together to discuss a highly charged matter. The Four-Living Creatures symbolizing the Gospels, are present, so a Council is held in the midst and context of the Bible. And Wisdom, the Seven Spirits of God, are present. Here in a true council is revealed Love and Here is revealed, if we would dare to look, the Holy Trinity.

[1] C.B. Moss, The Church of England and the Seventh Council (London: Faith Press, 1957), 5

[2] Ibid., 5-6.

Pentecost & Memorial Day weekend – 2023 – Fr. Geromel

Last week, we were able to look at the article of our Nicene Creed concerning the Procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father, and from the Son, and to see how whether we recite that He is “from the Father” (as the Eastern Church says) or “from the Father and the Son” (as the Western Church says), both statements are equally orthodox. We then went into some applications about that with regards to the wholeness that we have in Christ and the Holy Ghost if we, like Jesus, hear the Word of God and keep it, doing as the Father would have us do.

This week, in a roundabout way, we can look at the Creed, “I believe One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Note that we do not say, “I believe in” as we do the Persons of the Holy Trinity. But “I believe” as in I believe a person, a Divine Society, the Body of Christ. As St. John Henry Cardinal Newman said, “And I hold in veneration, For the love of Him alone, Holy Church as His creation, And her teachings are His own.”

Some have said that Pentecost is the Birthday of the Church. And this is a fair way to state things. In seminary I wrote a paper on this subject and I concluded that The Church was actually born in a process, just like a human baby, through the Life, Death and Resurrection, Ascension of Christ and descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Life of Christ is the gestation period in the womb, the Death is the travail of a woman in childbirth, that moment when she says “I’m going to die” because the labor pains are so intense. This is followed by “joy that a child is born into the world” that Jesus speaks of – so that she forgets her pain the minute she sees the baby. That is Easter. The Ascension and Pentecost is when the baby breathes on his own, separated from the Mother. Today, we celebrate that the Church, the Body of Christ in the World, the Bride of Christ, breathes on her own by the Power of the Holy Ghost, separated from its head physically, the cord being cut, but still connected spiritually by that breath of life bestowed by the Mother, so to speak, to the Child.

Yet still, time and again, to this day, we are faced with false impressions about what the Church is, or should be. The results of the Reformation over in Europe cling to us like burs, clumps of prickers filled with seeds that stuck to our trousers and that we brought over to the New World. Some of them good. Some of them not so good. Not good at all.

The watchword of the both the Reformation and the American Revolution is “freedom”. Guns and Bibles. Every good Protestant, from the time we set foot on these shores has his own gun and his own bible. Why? So that secular and spiritual tyranny over in Europe never, ever happen again over here. It’s a basic driving force, from the Pilgrims, to the Scots Covenanters, to the Scandinavian Lutherans and Baptists who were fed up with the State Church. It’s just a fact of our DNA as Americans. It isn’t good or bad, necessarily, except in the hands of someone who is unhealthy. In the hands of someone who isn’t connected with the Father, who doesn’t securely rest in the Father’s will, the same way Jesus did, the same is like a Billy the Kid, a reckless youth who, whether with bible or gun, or both, runs around trying to assert his autonomy in the name of “freedom”.

We have each our own Bible so that we can test out the teaching of the Church from the pews, not so that we can take over the teaching of doctrine and make it our own (sadly some Americans cannot hear a single sermon on a Sunday without correcting the preacher from “the Bible”). That is anarchy. Good order is to do as St. Paul said we should, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we preached unto you, let him be accursed.” It is seldom needed. Each man with his own gun and his own bible is a safeguard against tyranny in the spiritual and secular realm. There are some Americans who walk around with a bible under their arm and a gun on their hip all day long, but generally even the most conservative among us are happy enough that the preacher is the one with the bible under his arm all day long and the policeman the one with the gun on his hip all day long. Someday there may come a time when the preacher or the policeman are not for freedom and truth, and then out come the bibles and the guns. We are ready. But we don’t jump at every opportunity to stop the tyranny. Choosing every moment that appears slightly like tyranny to stop tyranny leads to anarchy.

This American “God and My Right” culture is a change, and it is a change at the Reformation. Before that, knights were about the only individuals in the society who could get up on horseback with a sword and priests were about the only ones who could read the Bible. It is not in itself a bad thing. We sometimes treat such an ordered society as if it were obviously just plain evil itself. That’s a bit silly. Policemen we still think should be, generally the only ones with guns on their hips all day long. It isn’t as if peasants didn’t know how to use weapons. They were the militia, but knights, like police officers, were the ones with swords on their hips all day long. While it has the potential for tyranny, it generally keeps good order by keeping anarchy in check.  

There is a further problem, however, and this is a second step in the whole process, a second generation of Protestantism problem, that spills over into America and distorts our understanding of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This is the notion of Covenanting with the Lord on a national level. The Puritans and the Cromwellian regime sought by Parliamentary procedure to “Covenant with the Lord”. During Rogationtide, we heard a lot of readings about the benefits of the Covenant Blessings that would fall on Israel if they ever followed the Lord completely. They never did. They might have for a decade or two or three here and there and the sense of what could be and wonderful blessing started to seep through, as in our own country on occasion, but was whisked away in the next generation when they fell from the Lord. That’s the Old Testament in a nutshell.

Sadly, as much as I might appreciate the goal of a “city on a hill”, the Puritan utopia that has lingered with us in some vague notion of “Christian America”, it is an ill-founded prospect, not consistent with the Goal of this life. The goal of this life and the Church is to reveal the Kingdom to come, not try to be the Kingdom of God here and now. Here I do not mean the Christian America of Freedom, of equality of religions under the law, of tolerance, but the pseudo Christian America that, again, seeps through from the Puritans. This is an attempt to receive the Covenant Blessings here and now in a way that is just not how the Church, Apostolic and Catholic, has ever seen things. Only the sects and heretics have seen it this way. In medieval times, some of these were called the Cathari (the pure ones) or Albigensians. There is nothing new under the sun. The Cathari saw matter as evil, had their own bishops, liturgies, councils, their own rewriting of Genesis. What saved Europe from them? The Christian knighthood put them down by the force of arms and the Church put them down by the authorized Preachers, the Order of Preachers, called the Dominicans.

The difficulty with this world in which we live, beloved, is that it is always a mixture of good and evil not easily separated out with a simple viewpoint: It isn’t that matter is evil and spirit is good. Both are impure, everyone in the world is impure, and also good to some extent. Yet, today, in modern Albigensianism, in modern Fundamentalism and neo-Puritanism, there is an attempt to orchestrate holiness by conduct control, by pushing back on human freewill, by denying the sacraments (which are made of matter, water, wine, bread) as evil, and the setting up the words of the Bible, which are mere spirit, because we read them aloud with the breath of our mouths or read those words in our minds, as pure. Sacraments, matter, are evil. Bible words, spirit, are pure.

The truth is, little sins do become bigger sins. Evil in a culture can snowball. If a girl becomes pregnant before marriage, for instance, there is a domino effect of problems, irritations, even other sins that, it is true, often follow that can cause the breakdown of society. The grandparents may need to take over parenting. This takes a toll on the business that the grandparents are involved in. So the Puritan, the Fundamentalist, says this must be stopped at all costs, not because it is sin in God’s eyes (which is always forgivable and able to be turned into a blessing), but because it is sin in our eyes (it is an annoyance and an irritation and a cost of time, energy, and money) to us. Yet if we look at it in the way in which the Catholic Faith has always done, pre-marital sex is sin in God’s eyes, because it is sin in God’s eyes – full stop. Will it adversely affect civilization? Sure. Will it mess up our “covenanted status” in the eyes of God? Theoretically, it might have been so in the Old Testament, before the Coming of Christ in the Flesh, and the Holy Ghost. But now it is an opportunity for a blessing, oddly enough.

So, guess what, no, it isn’t necessarily the downfall of our people anymore. What is the response for the Catholic Society to a girl falling pregnant out of wedlock? Confession, either formally or informally where she says she is sorry to her family and friends. And then the community surrounds her with love, grandma and grandpa put on their big boy pants, and help their teenage daughter raise the child. (And maybe grandma and grandpa figure out some ways that they could have done things better raising their daughter and they go to confession too.) All turns into a blessing, rather than shunning, ostracizing, and poverty, misfortune – because, guess what, St. James said, “religion pure and undefiled” includes taking care of teenage girls who fall pregnant, because they, like the widows, have become mothers to fatherless children.

Now, the good news is, I don’t think everything Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in the Scarlet Letter or Arthur Miller in The Crucible said about Puritan America was true. But some of it was true, in some places and in enough places that it seeps through and rears its ugly head in different congregations throughout this Great Land. Did you know that some Puritan preachers would not baptize children born on Sunday? Do you know why? Because in Puritan culture, you only baptized the children of “covenanted” parents, that is believers, who could give a testimony. There was a popular belief that a baby was born on the same day of the week on which it was conceived. So, the idea was that if the baby was born on Sunday, the Sabbath, then the child had been conceived on the Sabbath. What’s wrong with that? To some ministers, husband and wife engaging in marriage relations on Sunday was enough to make them “sabbath breakers” and un-covenanted, unworthy of having their children baptized in the Church. This is Cathari, Albigensianism, because to deny marriage relations as evil on any day to those who are in holy wedlock as itself evil is to posit that matter is evil.

Fortunately, not all Puritan ministers were that way. But where we find such things here in America today, among those who “Call themselves Christians” (some of them Fundamentalists – and they can pop up in any denomination) we must pray for them, and as in the Book of Acts, we must “take [them] unto [us], and [expound} the way of God more perfectly” to them (Acts 18:26). Fortunately, not all we might call Fundamentalists are that way, but too many are. The Catholic Faith, where the Holy Spirit is truly present, is a refuge to them. It is the true hope of Christian America. One of the places that it is found is in the Anglican Catholic Church, and that Faith “in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” is a blessing to this country if we would share it, the Holy Spirit enabling us to do so.   

Sunday after Ascension – 2023

Last week: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

From the same area of John that we are looking at recently in our Gospel lessons.

“He who has seen me has seen the Father . . .” (John 14:9 RSV)

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.” (John 14:10-11).

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth . . .” (John 14:15).

“He [the Father] has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (John 14:30).

“For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. . . . I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me.” (John 12:49-50).

Then this week we hear this, as well,

“When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me . . .”

This shows us, as the Church Fathers tell us, that the statement in our Creed, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the newer version of the Creed, proceeds from the Father and the Son, are both equally orthodox. Because the Son does nothing without the Father. That which He hears from the Father, He speaks, not because of “power”, but because of “command”. Clearly, from this week’s Gospel lesson, we hear that Jesus sends, but that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. This is why we sometimes say, “Proceeding from the Father, through the Son.”

2 eastern Church Fathers (it was the Western Church that added “and the Son”), commenting on today’s Gospel lesson: Didymus the Blind (313-398), a teacher at the Great School of Alexandria , said, “. . . when the Son sends the Spirit of Truth, Whom He has called the Comforter, so also does the Father; since it is by the same will of both Father and Son that the Spirit comes.” And Theophylactus, Bishop of Nicomedia in the 8th Century, said, “Elsewhere He says that the Father sends the Holy Spirit; now He says that He will send Him, and by this indicates His equality with the Father.”[1]  

Isn’t that an interesting distinction? The Father has no power over the Son, but because of the command of the Father, the Son does. But what is true about Jesus is true about us. No one, even God, truly has power over us, over our free will, but we can choose to adhere to a command. And yet, even this, this is all by grace, so that last week we prayed in our collect, “Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same.” So by grace, “ye are doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

The German theologian who died at the hands of the Nazis, Bonhoeffer, says in regards to this, “When the Bible calls for action it does not refer a man to his own powers but to Jesus Christ himself. “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15.5). This sentence is to be taken in the strictest sense. There is really no action without Jesus Christ.”[2]

He goes on to comment, “A hearing which does not at the same instant become a doing becomes once again “knowing”. . . If what is heard does not become doing, but if it becomes this “knowing,” then, paradoxical as this may sound, it is already “forgotten”. . . . The hearer of the word who is not at the same time the doer of the word thus inevitably falls victim to self-deception.”[3] This insightful comment on our text from last week will become important in a moment.

So, I’ve covered about about our trajectory of readings in the lectionary, and a bit about a controversial, interesting, and important article of the Creed (the procession of the Holy Spirit) which we just recited. And I will come back to this in a little bit. But I want to move on, for a second, to a practical application in our lives. This practical application has to do with the unity that we have within ourselves, and then, or first, the unity we have with God. God’s unity in the Holy Trinity is key to our being whole people ourselves, rather than fragmented, fractured, even split, personalities.

There are three difficulties with Psychology that I beg to point out.

The first is that it deems us as powerless in the face of causes that are outside of our control. This is not true of all therapy and all counseling, of course, which seeks to change behavior but it is true of psychology in its basic philosophy. In its basic philosophy, psychology sees man as doing as his environment and other contributing factors dictate and cause him to do.

The next is that “knowing” provides the impetus to change. If we know our environment and other contributing factors, we are able to change. This emphasizes the “knowing” over the “doing”, because we are faced, in large part, with contributing factors that are too much for us. Knowledge is power.  

The third is that because once we have separated out the contributing parts of ourselves, our environment, our emotions, our desires, as well as identified various categories of what used to be called neuroses, phobias, impairments, we have separated ourselves out and analyzed ourselves to such an extent that we hardly know where we ourselves are anymore. (Simeon)

This is the fragmentation, fractured, even split, personalities stage of individuals and societies. It is this that we have reached through indiscriminate use of psychology. How do we get humpty dumpty back together again, the car back together again, now that we’ve taken it apart, or taken ourselves apart, to see what is the matter?

This psychologizing of ourselves leads to fragmentation in the form of identity crises, gender crises, and different gender pronouns being used. Of course, I am jumping forward quite rapidly from the start, or the foundation, of psychology and its foundational principles to where we have ended up and I’ve overgeneralized for the sake of time, but there it is.

Now we have folks who want to identify as “they, we, us, them.” Here some have identified themselves not with any category of singularity but a certain plurality of personhood, consistent with our age of plurality and diversity.

Those who speak of themselves as “they, we, us, them” rather than “He” or “She” sometimes want to pledge solidarity with those who feel they fit no category or all categories, every color on the rainbow flag. I see a certain form of empathy and charity here, but it is one which empathizes with the parts of the car lying on the ground, the results of people over-psychologizing themselves into oblivion. We are all broken. There is no doubt. But the goal, beloved, is singleness of personhood, singleness of purpose, singleness of society, bound up under a God who is both three, therefore diverse, and one, therefore united.

Unity in diversity should be our motto, not diversity in Unity. That is true of us as a nation and true of us as individuals. We are more than the sum of our parts. Our parts are unique and diverse. But we are also made in the image of God and that surpasses all our understanding and in that we find a peace that passes understanding in the midst of many changes, many chances, many diverse problems and fears and emotions and feelings, in the midst of this mortal life.

How do we get there? “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Jesus said, “he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him” (John 8:26). Jesus said, “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49). There is a unity in ourselves that is effected by following the commandments of God. We find ourselves, in the midst of our diverse feelings and struggles and environments, in hearing the Word of God and doing, not just knowing, what the Father says. If it was good enough for Jesus, if he found his unity with the Father in that, it is good enough for us and we shall find the truth and our true selves too.  

[1] The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: A Manual of Preaching, Spiritual Reading and Meditation, 442.

[2] Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 46.

[3] Ibid., 48


Easter 4, 2023 – Fr. Geromel

  • Doug gave me some pieces of a dollar bill. Or three pieces of three individual dollar bills. He said, “It would be good if you could find these other pieces.”
  • He also offered me a magnetic key box he found. He said, “You would you like this? It has no key in it.”
  • This is a symbol of what most folks do in life. They have a piece of the secret of life. But it is it meaningless. It has no value apart from the whole dollar bill. Apart from Christ, some piece of the secret of life has no value.
  • Folks can create a great façade to their lives. They can mow their lawns and wash their cars and pay their bills. It appears they have the key to life. But if you open up that life, you find no key inside, just an empty box.

So far for non-Christians.

  • For Christians, while we have most of Christ, we have a tendency to hold on to a piece of the dollar bill. Instead of most of the dollar bill being missing, as with these, most of the dollar bill is there. We mostly have Christ, but insist on holding onto our own little pet corner of the green paper. We won’t give up all of our idolatry, just most of our idolatry.
  • Much of the Christian life, then, becomes a search for what parts of the dollar bill we are holding onto tenaciously.
  • In reality, most all of us will not let go of that final corner until just before we die. Then we will relinquish it all.

So “O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou doest promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found.”

I found a whole twenty dollar bill recently, blown by the wind, into a limb that had fallen off my crab apple tree and that I was cutting up. This is like the “every good gift”, the “every perfect gift” that is blown by the winds of change into our lives.

If you look at any bill, it will say that it is the property of the United States government. But it is also yours. How does that work? You are in a legal agreement, or contract, or covenant with the Government.

I remember the first time I saw a kid in school rip a dollar bill apart. Something sacred had been devalued. A contract had been torn up.

A full twenty dollar bill is a “perfect gift”. A ripped one is a torn up contract, in a sense. It is not a “perfect gift” but an imperfect one and as such has no value.

We have a tendency not to break the covenant completely. What we do, beloved, is devalue it. If you look at old Roman coins, they’ve scraped or filed off the roundness of them. They’ve taken a bit away to make new coins. The image of a certain king or emperor is there but the superscription may well be worn away. We don’t give up on Christ completely, we just, over time, chew away at our relationship with him that was given to us at the beginning, in Holy Baptism.

So how do we renew this? We reestablish communion with Him. That’s Holy Communion. The report from 1938, Doctrine in the Church of England, when talking about the Holy Eucharist said this, explaining to us the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Bread and Wine.  

“This type of doctrine may be illustrated by pointing out that a pound-note is not just an elaborately printed piece of paper, but has the value in currency of a pound sterling which fact justifies us in commonly speaking of it as “a pound”. Or, again, if a thing consists in the opportunities of experience which it affords, we may argue that the bread and wine are changed by consecration, in as much as they now afford as means of communion new opportunities of spiritual experience in addition to those which they originally afford as physical objects. They may truly be said to be spiritually the Body and Blood of Christ, in so far as they afford opportunities of a spiritual partaking of His sacrificed life.”

The dollar bill, or pound note, is a sign and seal of a covenant between us and the U.S. or U.K. Government. It is the outward means by which we hold on to a piece of the treasury, which remains the governments as well as ours.

Archbishop William Temple in his Christus Veritas of 1924 talks about “convaluation” to explain the Eucharist. He said, “It is an instrument of the Lord’s purpose to give Himself to us, as well as the symbol of what He gives.”

When we grasp Holy Communion, as when we took on Holy Baptism, He is a part of us, and we are a part of Him. We have a seal and sign between the two of us. The Body and Blood is His and now ours. The Bread and Wine is ours and always His, for He hold the whole universe in existence.

We receive Christ, but in receiving Christ, He does not hold back from us the rest of Himself. He does not withhold the fullness of the dollar bill, which is His and ours. First we knew of God the Father. Then was revealed to us God the Son. And newly, as we are told in our Gospel lesson today, in the fullness of Who He is, God the Holy Spirit is revealed to us.

All three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity are handed over to us to handle, entrusted to us, as the government hands us a dollar bill, in both Holy Baptism and the Eucharist. We receive this “perfect gift” this “trust” as a parent entrusts a child with a little allowance money, not just to show us responsibility but to teach us both the idea of private property and common property.

We are not to hold back onto a piece of the green, lest in the winds of change in the mortal life, we rip it and in ripping it, tear ourselves asunder from Christ.

He can heal, always. We are always His, but the tearing requires acknowledgment on our part and healing on His part.  


Easter Sunday – 2023 – Fr. Peter Geromel

The historic sequence hymn, Victimae Paschali, was written, we think, by Wipo of Burgundy (995-1050 A.D.), chaplain to the Holy Roman Emperor or King of the Germans, Conrad II. Written in Latin, of course, the original comes down to us as:

Victimae paschali laudes immolent Christiani.

Christians to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises.

It was one of four Historic Sequences that the Post-Tridentine or Post-Reformation Roman Catholic Church in her 1570 Missal (or manuscript of the mass) directed to be recited from the many, many, sequence hymns in existence in prior missals. There were sixteen different sequences just for Easter alone in previous missals. A fifth sequence, which we know well from the Stations of the Cross, the Stabat Mater – at the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping, where he hung the dying Lord – was added by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727. The sequence Victimae Paschali continues, and it starts to get into a good rhythm thus:

Agnus redemit oves:

Christus innocens Patri

Reconciliavit peccatores.

The Lamb the sheep redeemeth: Christ by sin undefiled, reconcileth sinners to the Father.

The Paschal Victim, obviously, is a lamb without spot. And here we find the irony that a Lamb, a son, can redeem the sheep – a sheep is older than a lamb, of course – (And this tells us of Christ’s human ancestors whom He redeemed: Mary, Joseph, David, Abraham and Sarah, Adam and Eve), while also reconciling the lesser with the greater. Jesus the Son of God, reconciles the sinners with the Father God. This is unusual.

Simeon asked Kari and I recently why it was that we were stronger. We answered that it was so that we could protect him. Parents protect children. Parents help children to reconcile. Here the Lamb, the Son, redeems the older (in earthly terms) the parents, the earthly ancestors, while also reconciling God the Father the Creator with the creation that has become estranged from Him.

As the hymn continues, the contrast and tension build.

Mors et vita duello – Death and life duel (not quite the meaning of “duello” here, but we derive our idea of “duel” from this Word “duello) – Conflixere mirando.

Death and life joined together in that conflict stupendous:

Dux vitae mortuus

Regnat vivus.

The King (or Duke or Prince) of Life who died deathless reigneth.

This Hymn continues on a little ways and then the famous sequence ends with:

Christ indeed from death is risen, so we know most surely: O King and Conqueror, grant to us mercy. Amen. Alleluia.

“O King and Conqueror” is in the Latin “Victor Rex”.

And so there is subtlety in Progression, I think, from “Dux” – Duke or Prince – to Victor Rex, King and Conqueror. It speaks to us, as those other verses did, of contrast between lesser and greater. The last shall be first and the first last. Jesus the Lamb redeems Adam the Sheep. Jesus the Son, reconciles the God the Father with His own Creation.

It Reminds me of the move from the anointed David to the crowned and enthroned David. David, when he is a lad, is anointed king by Samuel, and later dwells in Saul’s house, a Prince, a secret Prince, ready to dethrone and subjugate his best friend Jonathan. Jonathan is okay with this, oddly enough. But Saul is not. David is son-in-law to Saul, not just anointed, and Saul is still not okay with this.

But David, not Saul, is the elect of God. He is God’s own champion. The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

We are reminded of this in Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” It must be a man of “God’s own choosing.” He must win the fight. I am reminded of a point Josiah Bunting made in An Education for our Time (I believe it was). We think of the word elite as special, but it is also related to the word “elect” in the original French, as I recall. David The Prince was stealthy, a mighty man, an elite, special forces kind of guy. He was the elect of God. David evaded death at the hands of Saul through stealth and the Spirit of God. Jesus more so. In the conflict stupendous Death was ultimately tricked.

St. Ephrem of the Ancient Syrian Church In his own hymns is a master of capturing this trick played on Death by Christ, the poetic justice, the irony, which the elite Prince of God the Father dealt to Death.

“Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross: but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.

          Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. In slaying our Lord, death itself was slain.”

“All unsuspecting, it swallowed him up, and in so doing released life itself and set free a multitude.”

“You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of people raised from the dead.”

Indeed, Luther himself, as it was common for him to do with the Latin hymns for the common people (unversed as they were in Latin), wrote his own version of Victimae Paschali. A couple of lovely verses are:

Christ lay in Death’s dark prison,

It was our sin that bound Him;

This day hath He arisen,

And sheds new life around Him.

Therefore let us joyful be

And praise our God right heartily

So sing we Hallelujah


How fierce and dreadful was the strife

When Life with Death contended;

For Death was swallowed up by Life

And all his power was ended.

God of old, the Scriptures show,

Did promise that it should be so.

O Death, where’s now thy victory?


The Paschal Victim here we see,

Whereof God’s Word hath spoken;

He hangs upon the cruel tree.

Of saving love the token.

His blood ransoms us from sin,

And Death no more can enter in.

Now Satan cannot harm us.

Another hymn returned to us today, on Easter is the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, which we do not sing during Penitential Seasons. Luther wrote his own version of that, as well, for the people to sing. And can you wonder why? What marvelous news, in the Gloria In Excelsis, Glory be to God on High, lost on those who could not sing, or hear, or read Latin. Indeed, the whole of my sermon has pretty much been composed by reciting a hymn to you, for it has preached the Gospel.

Of course, we would not wish to miss out on the Latin either. 

Victimae Paschali preaches us right up to the communion Rail, for our Easter Communion. Christians – Paschal Victim – Thankful Praises. If you are Christians, you come to the Thanksgiving, the Eucharist, and in coming to the Eucharist, you come to the Paschal Victim, Who is your Feast.

And Luther, whatever you may say of him he had a high view of the Eucharist, makes this utterly clear in his version of the hymn.

So keep we all this holy feast.

Where every joy invites us;

Our Sun is rising in the East,

It is our Lord Who lights us.

Through the glory of His grace

Our darkness will to-day give place.

The night of sin is over.


With grateful hearts we all are met

To eat the bread of gladness.

The ancient leaven now forget,

And every thought of sadness.

Christ Himself the feast hath spread,

By Him the hungry soul is fed,

And He alone can feed us.


Palm Sunday – 2023 – Fr. Geromel

“Truly this was the Son of God.”

Let us consider at the outset of our discourse the words of A. Gabriel Hebert of the Kelham Society.

“. . . the Passion of Jesus seems to call out all that is ugliest and worst in human nature. One disciple betrays Him, another denies Him. The godly and respectable members of the Sanhedrin, about to keep the holiest festival of the Jewish year, snarl round Him like a pack of hyaenas when He confesses Himself to be Messiah. In the crucifixion itself, it must surely be right to think of a whole flood of evil let loose upon the soul of Jesus: He who has come to bring to men the Kingdom of God, the real reconciliation of man with God, is now faced with apparently conclusive proof that these men are not worth saving, that they have proved that they are not fit for the Kingdom of God and do not want it. He must face the evil in man at its worst, the evil as in reality it is. There is fitness therefore in the fact that when on Easter morning the Church hails Christ as Victor in the conflict, the words of the introit should be taken from Psalm [134], ‘O Lord, thou hast searched me out and known me.’ The paschal conqueror has searched the depths of human denial and despair: He has been made sin for us: He has borne the curse and turned it int a blessing.”[1]

          But God did not die only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles. And when He died, He died not only for their unbelief but for their confusion in their belief. This seems to be indicated by the Passion narratives, precisely Mark, but also our own from Matthew today, revealing to us that the Gentile soldiers believed Him to be the Son of God. What does that mean? Probably a whole lot of confusion theologically, but they are prophetic words, because He is the Son of God. Now, when we think of Roman soldiers, we, perhaps, think of them as coming from Rome. Hello, I am a Roman soldier, I am Italian. No, nothing could be further from the truth. Roman soldiers were recruited from all over the Roman empire. They came from all over. Their beliefs came from all over. Those in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion were, in a sense, a type of the Pentecost to come. They were from every nation, tribe, tongue, from every belief, practically, known to man at the time. St. Longinus who, by tradition, pierced Jesus’ dead flesh with a spear, became a monk in Cappadocia. Another tradition says that an Irish Roman legionnaire was at the crucifixion and returned to Ireland proclaiming Christ. They served a nation, that was also a cult, seeing itself as better than any civilization ever to exist before [sound familiar?], headed by an Emperor who was, practically, as many claimed to have been before him, a god.

It is quite fascinating to realize that one manuscript, out of many manuscripts, of the Gospels, a Latin one, translates Mark 15:35 as, “Behold, He calleth on Helios, the sun-god.”[2] Is this a bit of creative writing? Yet one can imagine, hearing “Eloi, Eloi” would be heard easily by a Roman soldier as “Helios” rather than “Elias” or “Elijah.” Indeed, one can imagine that as happens in a crowd, one person hears one thing, another hears another, and another thinks he heard both say yet a third thing. It also may speak to the syncretic nature of belief at that time and hints at a confusion on the subject of eschatology, the end times. [Confusion about the end-times. Sound familiar?] Elijah was supposed to return before the Messiah returned – so calling for “Elijah” makes sense. Calling for the Sun-God when there is darkness over all the earth, makes sense because you would want the sun to come out. Equating, in some sense, Elijah and Helios is not only linguistically something that makes sense, but also Elijah went up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Helios or Apollo rides a chariot as the sun – something, for the syncretic-minded among the mystery religions, that be mystically understood to be alluded to in Psalm 19:4-6: “In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” So, the Psalms, to the syncretic-minded, the mystically-minded, seems to indicate what mythology says about Apollo or Helios.  

Helios or Apollo, was the son of Zeus, therefore, in a sense the Son of God. Apollo was sometimes depicted, believe it or not, as a shepherd, like David, like the Good Shepherd. Apollo was also sometimes depicted with a harp, like David too. Apollo was a good physician, and was not Jesus a healer of men? Yes, it would be easy for a Jew, versed in mythology, to see Jesus as Helios or Apollo. It would be easy for a Roman, versed in Jewish culture, Scripture and lore, to think the same. It speaks, possibly, of the confusion Jesus came to save.

And yet, we do not see a lack of confusion today. The confusion continues. What can we say for certain about the future? What can we say for certain about ethics? What can we say for certain about government, or parenting? There is a plethora of mix-it, match-it, out there, (a variety of opinions) just as there seems to have been in Jesus’ day. But Jesus knows us, he has searched us out and known us, he knows our sitting down and our standing up, our thoughts long before we have thought them. He has left us the bread-crumbs to follow in His Word as it is taught in His Church to overcome the confusion in our day.

Even the story of Apollo gives us insight about the Holy Trinity, left there as bread crumbs for the observing and devout, those definite seekers of the Truth. For example, in the Aaronic blessing, we are struck by the Trinitarian God that lies under the words, ready to pierce our minds with His truth and self-revelation if we would let it. “The Lord bless you and keep you.” God the Father. “The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.” God the Son, revealing his face in human form and being gracious to us. “The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” The Holy Spirit brings peace to us, peace that passes understanding. One Lord, One blessing. Three different very personal blessings in One blessing.

In the story of Apollo, the son of Zeus, Apollo has a son of his own, Asclepius, the god of medicine. It is to Asclepius that Socrates, upon drinking the Hemlock (himself, in many accounts, an historic and imperfect type of Christ – so was David) said to go and sacrifice a cock to, indicating that Socrates, in death, was healed or atoned of his illness and mortality. The practice of offering the appointed sacrifice in this way, was not unlike the Law of Moses requiring offerings for certain healings. Jesus says to the leper, “go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them” (Mark 1:44). Asclepius was said to have four daughters, Hygiea (goddess of cleanliness, obviously), Lasco (goddess of recuperation, or convalescence), Aegle (of good health), and Panacea (universal health). If you see things in this manner, we see the Trinitarian ready to leap out, not to turn, we hope the God unity, the God of the Jews, into the disunity and confusion that is characteristic of Homeric gods, proving them false gods, as Socrates hinted at and was executed for. The Trinitarian God is ready to leap out for those who are devout and noble pagans, definite seekers of Truth. Apollo of healing, has a son of medicine, and he has four daughters (which is the number indicating for both Jews and Gentiles the universal world) who are goddesses of particular kinds of healing. There we have a bread crumb of the Holy Trinity written into Pagan mythology, ready to lead worshipers of heathen deities to the true worship, in Spirit and in Truth.

But this hardly helps us much today – except among those who have willfully returned to paganism, and they are hardly of a mind to listen to us tell them about the Holy Trinity. It does help us, however, in the world of Medical Ethics, in which there is much confusion, both of ethics and of end-times – if we feel strongly that we need to reduce our carbon footprint in order to save the Planet and Humanity, it will lead us to certain medical choices. Despite what people think, most doctors today do not take the Hippocratic Oath. They take a number of different oaths, or even write their own – are you surprised? No, you aren’t really surprised if you know the culture in which we live. But hear the original Hippocratic Oath and hear in it, if you will, the Son of God, the Healer, peeping through and showing you Himself.

“I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture. [We have already covered the Trinitarian aspect of this oath.]

“To hold my teacher in this art equal to my own parents; to make him partner in my livelihood; when he is in need of money to share mine with him; to consider his family as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture; to impart precept, oral instruction, and all other instruction to my own sons, the sons of my teacher, and to indentured pupils who have taken the Healer’s oath, but to nobody else. [Here we have “honor thy father and thy mother. Here we have Christ saying to his disciples that they are His friends, He shares with them knowledge freely.]

“I will use those dietary regimens which will benefit my patients according to my greatest ability and judgment, and I will do no harm or injustice to them. [It is not that which goes into a man that defiles him but that which comes out of a man’s heart.] Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art. I will not use the knife, not even, verily, on sufferers from stone, but I will give place to such as are craftsmen therein.

“Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free. [How many times in His earthly life and that of His disciples did they enter into any home in which they were bidden, eating what was set before them, healing the sick before them. How many times did Christ and His disciples rise above the temptation to take advantage of those who had placed themselves in such spiritual doctors’ care?] And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession, as well as outside my profession in my intercourse with men, if it be what should not be published abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets. [This, of course, leads to the seal of the confessional held by priests of God today.]

“Now if I carry out this oath, and break it not, may I gain for ever reputation among all men for my life and for my art; but if I break it and forswear myself, may the opposite befall me.”

Here we can clearly see that Christ is the Great Physician, upholding not only the great Law of Moses, but, better than the Gentiles, the great laws of the gentiles. Socrates rejoiced to see His day, I should think. He saw it and was glad. Plato would have traveled to see the Wisdom of Solomon and a greater than Solomon had come. We, too, can return to the God of the Jews, revealed fully in the flesh and the Son of God and Son of Man, to find help in our ethical and end-times dilemmas today. We return to His Most Holy Word as taught by His Bride the Church, whom He purchased with His own Blood, Tears, and Bloody-Sweat, by which He sprinkled and bedewed the earth, as was done with all Sacrificial Blood in the Law of Moses.

There is one thing I should add in closing. The phrase “First, do no harm.” Primum Non Nocere. Is not in the Oath. Indeed, that comes, I should think, from the Jain Religion, a reform, interestingly enough, of earlier Hindu animal-sacrificing religions. And it is not true of the Son of God. He is not above doing harm. As Hosea 6 prophesied: “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us: he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.” Jesus the Great Physician does do harm to himself. He who withheld the knife from Isaac, does not withhold the knife from Himself. The surgery He performs in the scourging, the nails and the spear, is for the healing of Israel and the healing and the nations. O Come, let us worship.

Let us Pray. O Good Shepherd, who hast laid down Thy life for thy sheep. Behold we are those sheep that are lost. Take us on Thy shoulders and carry us in Thy bosom. Be Thou our shepherd, and we shall lack nothing; and Thou wilt lead us forth to the green pastures of eternal life. O Good Physician of men’s souls, who camest to heal the infirmities caused by sin. Behold we are sick and wounded, heal Thou our sicknesses with Thy stripes. We are those sick souls whom Thou camest from heaven to heal: heal our souls, for we have sinned against Thee. In the Name . . .[3]

[1] A.G. Herbert, Liturgy and Society: The Function of the Church in the Modern World, 54.

[2] Ibid., 54.

[3] Baring-Gould, The Golden Gate, 283.

Passion Sunday – 2023 – Fr. Geromel

Our Epistle Lesson today, is Hebrew 9, verses 11-15. That which we read today will be continued on Wednesday in Holy Week, the Wednesday before Easter, with Hebrews 9, verses 16-28. While the readings for Good Friday were originally, in the Sarum Missal of the Medieval English Church, from Hosea and Exodus, about the Passover Lamb, the framers of the Prayer Book added the reading we now have from Hebrews 10, a reading which follows directly after our reading from Wednesday of that week. So again, today, on Wednesday in Holy Week, and on Good Friday, we will follow the reading of Hebrews 9:11-10:25. Of course, in the Bible itself, and in the manuscripts for the celebrating the liturgies of the Church, called missals, there are no chapters and verses. Chapters and verses are post-Reformation additions, Protestant additions, if we were to speak bluntly, which at this point the Universal Church, Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic, accepts. The scholarship that went into chapter breaks and verse breaks is phenomenal and very good. I have no intention of dismissing them.

Nevertheless, there is an older way of dividing up the readings. When we look at the Book of Ezra, we read: “They asked Ezra the high priest and reader to bring the Law of Moses, which had been handed down by the Lord God of Israel. . . . He read aloud in the open place before the temple gate from early morning to noonday in the presence of both men and women; and all the people paid attention to the law. Ezra the priest and reader of the law stood upon the wooden judgment seat that had been made ready. . . . Then Ezra took in hand the book of the law in the presence of the people, for he had the seat of honor before all of them and when he opened the law, all of them stood up straight. Ezra then blessed the Lord God Most High, the God of Hosts the Almighty.” Here we have the basic format of what we would call the Liturgy of the Word, the first part of the mass. First, we hear from the Epistles, usually, sometimes something else, and this we hear attentively and sitting. Then we have the Gospel lesson and everyone stands. The people then bowed down and worshipped, and this practice is still held to by Eastern liturgies and our “propers” during Lent, where in it is said, “Bow down before the Lord” and a prayer is said over the people at the end of mass and before the Blessing. But what about the sermon? Yes, that is coming. “The Levites, Jeshua, Anniuth, Sarabiah . . . [several fellows], preachers and teachers of the Law] taught the law of the Lord. At the same time, they explained what was being read” (Ezra 9:40-48, passim). “So they read distinctly from the book of the Law of God; and they gave the sense and helped them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8). Reading “distinctly” here, we do not mean slow and steady so the hard of hearing and children can understand it – although I am sure they did that as well. There is something more going on, very likely something to do with reading it in digestible amounts and explaining it. This may have led to the Synagogue practice of diving up the readings Sabbath by Sabbath.

Indeed, we might say that the Church’s chapters and verses are not the chapters by those printing the Bible on printing presses, but the portions that the Church has decided should be read Sunday by Sunday, in the same way that the Jews divide up their Synagogue readings. This to say that there is an importance to Lectionaries, there is a division of reading that is helpful to our understanding what is read; and, like the Synagogues of old, different divisions can be held to by different traditions. So it is that our division of the readings in the Western Church are not the same as other Eastern churches. This is okay. But let us consider the chapter breaks not in the Bible itself, but between the readings from the Book of Hebrews from our Prayer Book, for those verses are the points of transition in the Chapters that the Church has marked out.

We know that points of transition in good writing between the end of one paragraph and the beginning of another is important. Let us then look at the connection between our last verse today and our first verse of Hebrews on Wednesday in Holy Week: “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.” Note that if we heard this separated between today and Wednesday in Holy Week, we would miss the connection between these two verses. What is the connection between the two verses? There is a similarity between a Covenant and a Testament, and the eternal inheritance is the promise attached to it. And just as in a Last Will and Testament, so with a Covenant, it requires the death of the one making it. What does this mean? We need to go further back to the Book of Genesis, chapter 15. Abraham asks for evidence of the promise that God had made to him. Abraham believed, it, and it was “counted . . . to him for righteousness.” And yet, a Covenant was made between them that day. “So [God] said to [Abraham], “bring me a three-year old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon.”” What is the significance of that? Three years Jesus walked the earth. A turtledove and a young pigeon later are the offering for a first-born son, that Mary offered at her Purification in the Temple. “So [Abraham] brought all these to Him and cut them in half, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two.” Later, around sunset, “behold, horror and darkness fell upon him.” What happened at the Crucifixion? Darkness over the earth. “And it came to pass, when the sun went down” at the time of the evening sacrifice “that there was a flame, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and lamps of fire that passed between those divided pieces. On the same day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram . . .” There has to be a death to seal the deal, a sacrificial death, and here it was a vicarious death of some sacrificed animals. Now, let’s look at the next “chapter break”.

Between the last verse for the Wednesday in Holy Week and the first verse for Good Friday: “And it is appointed for men to die once, but after this judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.” There has to be a death, once, for all, which seals and ratifies that Covenant and Testament, because, while the Law calls for continued Sacrifice like Abraham made, it does not purify us from sin. So the first part of our discussion on the Covenant promises an “eternal inheritance” and the second part of our discussion promises sinlessness, perfection.

Bishop Alexander Jolly explains, “. . . [A]fter the ransom of infinite price was paid, and death, the doom of man’s disobedience, was undergone by Him, whose death was a full, perfect, and all-sufficient satisfaction for the sins of the whole world; His personal blood, the blood of God incarnate, fulfilled completely the type of bloody sacrifices, and they ceased accordingly, their prefiguration being accomplished. But in their stead, as long as sinful man is upon the earth, his access to, and acceptance with God is by sacrifice – no longer prefigurative of what was to come, but commemorative, with praise and thanksgiving of what, to our great and endless comfort, has been perfectly performed. No longer confined to Judea, and the limited priesthood of Aaron, the divine and eternal High Priest after the order of Melchisedec, having made the oblation of His all-prevailing sacrifice, under the symbols of bread and wine, left these symbolic pledges to be the sacrifice of his universal church . . .” Here we refer to the Eucharist. Here, I might add, there is the promise of eternal life. “preserve thy body and soul unto eternal life”[1] and there is promise of perfection and sinlessness, this being what the live coal which touched Isaiah’s tongue and purged him of sin prefigured in Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly realm.

And so we come to the Gospel lesson. “Jesus said, which of you convinceth me of sin?” That is an argument for perfection and sinlessness. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” That is an argument that we see playing out in Hebrews 9, concerning testimony and the promise of eternal life. Keep His testimony, His words, and such a person “shall never see death”. And then we reach the discussion about Abraham. “Abraham is dead, and the prophets”. This is true. Their promises, will and testament, their testimony are ratified by their death. Concerning Abraham, his seed was multiplied greatly after his death. His testimony is true. The prophets, their prophesies were proved to be true, after their death, after they were written down and put on record. They are prophets because, after their deaths, they were shown to have delivered true prophecy. And we receive their promises. But Jesus isn’t dead, yet; so there is something different between Jesus and these other fellows. And his adversaries, thinking they see a chink in his armor, say to him, “Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? And the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?” Then he proves that He is greater, and thus that the New Covenant and Testament in His blood, to come, and His death, to come, is a greater Covenant. And Hebrews 6 relates to this concerning Abraham, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself. Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you. . . . . For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath. That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” This then helps us better to understand what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson today, “If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you; but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he was it, and was glad.”

The testimony of Jesus is based on One greater, and the greater than Jesus is a heavenly Father God (only by relationship, not by substance), not an earthly Father Abraham. What are the two things that the Pharisees are counting on here? They are swearing by Abraham and the Prophets. But as Hebrews points out, these are not two “immutable” things, they don’t last for ever. They are condemned out of their own mouths, Abraham and the Prophets, they tell Jesus, are dead. Yes, therefore, they are not swearing by two “Immutable things”. Rather, Jesus is swearing by two immutable things, God the Father and, Himself, God the Son. And in the mouths of two or three witnesses all things, according to the Law, are established. And a promise made by two perfect witnesses is a perfect promise. So we reach the climax of the debate, the point that clinches it, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Here He makes the consubstantial, the same substantial similarity, between His Father and Himself clear – they are both God.

Then, treating Jesus as a prophet, prophets being martyred in the Temple, they try to stone Him. But here it is important that He not die as a prophet only, but as a scapegoat, a sin offering, perfect according to the Law but for those gentiles as well who could not enter the Temple. He cannot be crucified or killed in the Temple, but He must be killed outside the gates of the temple. So, Hebrews tells us, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” What is this altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat? This is his body and his blood, both. The blood of the sacrifice, which is the Life, was not permitted to be part of the sacrifice. Like Abraham and Moses, and the Prophets, who were dead, their sacrifices of the earthly fathers of the faith were sacrifices of death, no life being in them. But the sacrifice of which we partake, on the altar outside of the Temple in Jerusalem, has life in it, for we partake both of the body and the blood of Christ.

Bishop Jolly again, “Now, that the bread and cup of our Lord’s divine institution are to be presented go God, as the prevailing memorial of his Son’s death and passion, is easily and fully to be inferred from that his most affecting command, “Do this in remembrance of me.” By these ever memorable words, the Apostles and their successors were authorized and enjoined to celebrate, and all Christians, the disciples of Christ, to frequent this divine service. Christ’s own part, once performed, never could be repeated. None but the eternal High Priest himself, God and Man in one person, was worthy or qualified to offer the real, natural substance; and the imagination of any creature’s pretending to repeat that sacrifice, and offer ten thousand times in ten thousand places the same substantial flesh and blood of Christ, which hung upon the cross, is shocking to the mind. But of that one only sacrifice once offered, – in virtue of which He for ever pleads his intercession for us in the highest heavens, where, in his human nature glorified inconceivably, He will remain until the time of the restitution of all things, – He has, to our unspeakable benefit, left behind Him the memorial and representation upon earth, a commemorative sacrifice, to be presented by delegated priesthood, in succession from those his Apostles, in order to apply the inexhaustible virtue of the original sacrifice, for the salvation of men, as long as the world shall last.”[2]

[1] Alexander Jolly, The Christian Sacrifice in the Eucharist, 46.

[2] Ibid., 47

Lent 4 – 2023 – Fr. Geromel

Our Lessons today speak to us of three mountains: Mount Sinai, the Holy Mount of Jerusalem, and the Mount on which Christ preached and fed the 5,000. Each one of these, in a round about way, had an aspect of Freedom and an aspect of Bondage. So it goes with the two women mentioned by Paul today. Hagar, the bondmaid, was a slave woman, maid to Sarah, and who became Abraham’s concubine. But she was free to go, albeit go to die in the wilderness. Sarah, on the other hand, was free since she was a freewoman, but was, subsequently, bound as the lawful wife, who bore his heir, Isaac. She was not free to go. The implications of the Covenant and of the Prophecy that her children would abound like stars and sands required her to stay. Back to those mountains, Mount Sinai meant freedom from the Egyptians, but the necessity of being bound to the Law of Moses. So too with Jerusalem, freedom in the promised land, freedom from wandering the wilderness like gypsies, but being bound to offer daily sacrifices, repeatedly, morning and evening, and at different stages of life, in the temple in Jerusalem; and being bound to farm and make the land fruitful – bound to the life of agriculture. Even in our Gospel lesson we are forced to see that there is freedom. Folks were free to leave their daily livelihood and pursue Jesus. They were still bound to time and space and their stomachs; they needed to eat.

          So too with our daily lives. Freedom from the nursery, means being bound to go to elementary school. Freedom from elementary school, means summer vacation and being bound to a certain kind of restricted freedom around the house and the backyard, and being bound to such chores as mowing the lawn or cleaning up your toys more often because you are home more. Freedom from high school, means college or a job. Freedom from singlehood, means being bound to another in matrimony or some form of partnership and cohabitation. Our whole lives are subject to this bizarre paradox to which, theologically, we can apply the dichotomy of Law and Gospel. Paul gives us, as he is so very good at doing, a perplexingly complicated way of summing up, exhaustively and incisively, the paradoxes of the Gospel.

          A.G. Herbert of the Society of the Sacred Mission, an Anglican religious house established in 1893, which ran theological colleges, for one thing, writes to us of our connectedness or lack thereof, first referencing his own monastic house (Liturgy and Society: The Function of the Church in the Modern World, Chapter 1.

“We install gas-cookers in our kitchen at Kelham; the result is a great gain in cleanliness and efficiency; but we now become dependent on the pipe-line from the gas-works, whereas with the old coal ranges we could have a year’s supply of coal in hand, and if that were not procurable, we could have made shift with wood from the trees in the grounds. Here is a small instance of a world-wide process: the whole world is now one economic unit, an organism of incredible complexity.

“But spiritually the world becomes less and less of a unity. More and more men are strangers to one another, strangers to the people in the next house. The individual and the family are lost in the crowd, strangers among millions.”

This could have been written yesterday, but it was written in 1935, between two world wars. Indeed, once wireless radios entered in, even when newspapers became common place, we might say the beginning of isolated un-sociated, decontextualized, individualism began. That is to say, when we no longer have to discuss the events of the day with our neighbor, down at the local market, or in the pub, we have failed to deal with matters as a community, and only as families, or more likely just as individuals. This is stretching things a bit, but only a bit. The give-and-take of public dialogue is important and the more open that discussion, the more volatile, yes, but the more healthy as well.

          There is a freedom that comes with our phones, and with social media, that also becomes a bondage. We don’t talk as much about events of the day in coffee shops, once the place where you did so. Rather, you sit with your coffee, next to someone else, both entering into public debate via your phone. Even husband and wife do this, and the two parties could be (and always could be) in very different proverbial “parties” while sitting in the same room. With each new found freedom, we are immediately stuck into a new kind of bondage.

          This is why Paul’s statement that the “Jerusalem above is free” is such a liberating thought, one of the only truly liberating notions that we, even in “America which is Free”, can grab ahold of with an “ah-hah moment”. That’s it. That’s where true freedom is. The whole reality of what he has said there is the story of the Old Testament prior to Exodus, and the elders of the Hebrews along with Moses, going up to a mountain and eating and drinking with God (which story is repeated today when the 5,000 follow Jesus, hear him, and eat and drink with Him). There is the story of wanderings and attempts to cease wandering. Freedom given up for the bondage of building a city, whether Babel, or Cana or entering, as Lot and his family did, into the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is summed up by Paul in Hebrews in the words, “Here we have no abiding city.” Our city, above, is the Heavenly Jerusalem, which John tells us so much about in the Book of the Revelation.

          Does this mean we should give up on the notion of freedom while we are here on earth? What of America? What of Christian America? For many, to some greater or lesser extent, the very point of being American is to be free and to be a Christian, and a holy war can be waged intellectually or physically or geographically in order to defend such fundamental Americanisms. I would not wish to take that, somewhat, reachable goal away from anyone – the Jerusalem above and free notion seems far too much of a cop-out for many, oddly enough, Bible-believing Christians. For many Bible-believing Christians, We are to work for it here and now, a city on a hill, a new Israel (while supporting Israel as well), through holy war (the Crusading impulse) if necessary. Is this what the Bible teaches? Is this our task? There might be something to it, something very limitedly true (as any truth here is limited) if we didn’t grasp it as the “ah-hah moment”. Any ah-hah moment, Paul is hinting to us (if we would listen to him), beyond that “Jerusalem above and free” notion is at best illusory and naive, at worst (as the Pharisees practiced it in Israel and were persecuting Christians, and as the true believers in the Roman Empire, those who believed that Rome was the true city, the truly free city, were about to start persecuting Christians), at worst, the notion becomes idolatrous.

          To grasp that no place is that “abiding city”, while every city can be a safe place for a time, a free place for a time, is the only truly safe notion, geographically speaking, for those of us on our earthly pilgrimage and stuck in this veil of tears. In many ways, ironically, the Jews of today, having had to endure many persecutions, many pogroms even before Fascist Genocide, having learned not to have any abiding city. And yet, the Israel program is an attempt at an abiding city, Zionism being not accepted by all Jews as the best or safest option. It does, after all, if fully enacted, get all the Jews in one place so that “One bomb might kill them all” – not the best strategy in the long run, actually. Again, to grasp that we have no abiding city is crucial for our keeping our perspective. We follow Jesus. We follow the Lamb that was Slain as the Moravians would say. We follow where the Word of God and the Bread that sustains our Life takes us.  

          That notion of “America above and free” being put, I hope to rest, we move on to the next tendency of Christians. Each new freedom naturally, until the end of time, is a trade off for a different kind of bondage. That we should just hide in our ghettos and keep quiet so no one knows we’re here, that is the next trap we easily fall into. As Herbert again says, “Orthodox Christians are often found labouring under something of an inferiority complex: and it would be true to say that congregations tend not infrequently to shut themselves off from the surround world, in a rather esoteric devotionalism: a life of piety, often very intense, which concerns itself in the first place with the salvation and sanctification of the individual soul.”

          Again he says, in 1935, “the majority of the population do not go to church. A town parish thinks it is doing moderately well if out of 10,000 people it has 500 communicants: one out of twenty. The fact is that the Church is definitely opposed to the increasingly secular drift of civilization. Sometimes it withdraws into itself: but more and more it is rising up, like the early Church under the Roman Empire, to accept the challenge and become more conscious of its vocation . . .”

“The Church bears witness to the world in various ways – by the lives of Christians, by their impact on social life, by sermons, books, wireless, by public manifestos, by personal example. All these ways of witness are directly dependent on the individuals by whom the witness is given.” And here we might add, then, that this individualism that we see is not, in all sense, a bad thing. There is freedom in individual activity, and limitations too. There is freedom in community activity, and limitations too. He goes on, “But there is another way in which the Church herself speaks, more clearly, certainly and effectively than by the voices of her individual members. This is by the existence of the parish churches and the liturgy that is performed in them.”

“The Church liturgy is in a sense dependent on the individual members of the Church for its continuance; but its contents are mainly independent of them. The church building reflects in its ornaments and fittings the particular style of the priest and people . . .”

“Baptisms weddings, and funerals. On these great occasions of life and death the Church still comes into their lives, and the Church liturgy has great things to say to them, if they had ears to hear, about the mystery of birth and life and death. . . .

“By the influence of the Church service the regular Church people are moulded; for the things which they do in church make a deeper impression than the teaching which reaches their minds. Often they have thought that they came to church chiefly to hear the sermon. This, however, they mostly forgot; but there were responses and prayers, commandments, creeds, and scriptures, which impressed themselves on their mind by constant repetition. All these things, the church building and the ritual and the ceremonies which take place in it, speak of the reality of God after a manner different in kind from the exhortations and instructions of the preacher.

I would go on from there to add that, the church building should not become fixated in our minds so much that we make an idol out of it, nor the liturgy. But what we see in our lessons today is that each place has its limitations and its freedoms and here we have no abiding city. Like the Israelites, we have a mobile temple, or cities and temples not set on one hill (not on Jerusalem only, or Rome only, or Puritan Boston only) but, like the cattle upon a thousand hills, we have cities and temples set upon a thousand hills – each one of them belonging to the Lord, which is the very meaning of the word “church” or “kirk” – belonging to the Lord – but each one of them expendable. Burn this one down, flee we to another one. Destroy us here, and we rise up elsewhere. As individuals and as a community, we have the freedom to pursue Jesus wherever he leads, and this is true freedom without insurmountable limitations – this is Jerusalem the abiding city and rallying point for God’s people.


Lent 3 – 2023 – Fr. Geromel

“Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

One of the more inspirational stories of Science in the 1980s is that of DNA fingerprinting. In 1986, Dr. Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester was asked by police to verify a suspect’s confession that he was responsible for two murders and tests proved that the suspect had not committed the crimes. In 1987, DNA evidence was used to put away Robert Melias in the UK and in the US Tommy Lee Andrews the same year. DNA evidence would also reverse a lot of convictions going forward, resulting in the exoneration of many. Either way, Justice was served.

          It occurs to me that, in an almost prophetic way, the exoneration of individuals wrongly convicted was spoken about at the exact same time. In 1987, the movie The Princess Bride became famous for many one-liners which have entered into our culture never, perhaps, to be erased. One of those one-liners is, “I have just sucked one year off of your life. Tell me, how do you feel?” Count Rugen asks this having hooked up Wesley to his “The Machine.” The emotional impact of hearing, “I have just sucked one year off of your life” is startling in its own way and speaks to us of those convicted, especially those wrongly convicted. Wesley is taken down into a torture chamber laboratory, shackled, tied up; All of these things evoking prison. It was the time of the Lebanon Hostage Crisis, the end of the communist era, POWs stuck in Vietnam were still fresh on our minds (Chuck Norris in Delta Force and Silvester Stallone in Rambo kept going back for POWs after all), the time when Nelson Mandela was in prison, and, if I may dare say, the time when the discussions of what to do with the mentally ill in institutions was at its height nationwide. Plenty were having years “sucked” off their lives, rightly or wrongly. When the jealous Prince Humperdink, (evoking in his last name, Engelbert Humperdink, a singer who had, some felt, already tortured enough ears especially given the oft repeated commercials of his greatest hits) moved the Machine to 50 years, Wesley was left “mostly dead”.

          Wesley, at this moment, is a Christ-character, laying in Hades, in the shadow of death, waiting to be resurrected. He is resurrected and it happens by a type, something symbolizing, Holy Communion. Miracle Max provides a chocolate-coated pill, evoking to us both Mary Poppins (A Spoonful of Sugar makes the Medicine Go Down) and Holy Communion, “taste and see that the Lord is Good.” Inigo Montoya and Andre the Giant or Fezzik, act as Good Samaritans, who take Wesley, half dead, to the Innkeeper, Miracle Max, and Wesley is nursed back to health. In the end, Fezzik pretending to be Dread Pirate Robert, along with Inigo and Wesley, storm the castle. Just three of them, brains, brawn and skill. “A Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” and Prince Humperdink is “spoiled of all his goods” bound the way he has bound Wesley. “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.”

          If the three amigos storming the castle represent the Holy Trinity, and Wesley is Christ, then Prince Humperdink is Satan, jealous of the Princess Bride, the Church. If he is Satan, Count Rugen is Death, taking Inigo Montoyas’ father by the sword, sucking life away, himself eventually swallowed up by skill and cunning and perseverance, by the Holy Spirit, in Death. Death swallowed up in Death. That is the theme of Easter. At the start of the movie, Wesley comes disguised as the Dread Pirate Robert to rescue the Princess Bride, the Church. Christ came wrapped up in the body of sin, the body of total depravity, to rescue and redeem his Bride, the Church. He came with stealth and deception to spoil the devil’s goods. Bishop Gustaf Aulén, the Swedish Bishop in his acclaimed work, Christus Victor, sums up Gregory of Nyssa, the Church Father, as saying, “When the Godhead clothes itself in human form, the devil thinks that he sees a uniquely desirable prey; the Godhead in Christ is so hidden that he does not notice the danger which threatens him, and which under other circumstances he would immediately have avoided. Therefore he accepts the offered prey; as a fish swallows the bait on the fish-hook, so the devil swallows his prey, and is thereby taken captive by the Godhead, hidden under the human nature.”  

          The Church Father, Irenaeus, answers the question, “For what purpose did Christ come down from heaven?” with the following: “That He might destroy sin, overcome death, and give life to man.” “Man had been created by God that he might have life. If now, having lost life, and having been harmed by the serpent, he were not to return to life, but were to be wholly abandoned to death, then God would have been defeated, and the malice of the serpent would have overcome God’s will. But since God is both invincible and magnanimous, He showed His magnanimity in correcting man, and in proving all men, as we have said; but through the Second Man He bound the strong one, and spoiled his goods, and annihilated death, bringing life to man who had become subject to death. . . . Wherefore he who had been taken captive was himself taken captive by God, and man who had been taken captive was set free from the bondage of condemnation.”

          In the beginning of the movie, the Princess Bride is captured by Prince Humperdink’s agents, by deceit, in order to start a war (perhaps symbolic to movie writers of various perceived shenanigans by the CIA). Then she is captured by Wesley dressed up as the Dread Pirate Robert, again by deceit, then Prince Humperdink, pretending to be the rescuer (who is actually the capturer), pursues the capturer who turns out to be rescuer. Does this not sum up, in a sense, the devil’s deceit, and our relationship with Christ? We say no to him (Christ) who is our rescuer as if he wishes to be a captor, and we fall into the arms of our captor (the devil) who pretends to be our rescuer! This is our spiritual life. If we mistake our rescuer for our captor, then “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”  

          What do we do when life is sucked out of us? “I have just sucked one year off of your life, how do you feel?” God who is all life, can swallow up sucked up life in infinite life. The source of all life is not to be trifled with. And the Church, which has life, is not to despair of the life that She has to give to others. The Church should not despair. In Princess Bride, Princess Buttercup, believing her true love is not going to come, vowing on her wedding night before consummating with Prince Humperdink to do herself in, has the dagger pointed at her heart. Wesley appears and says, “There is a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours.” So we should remember, when we despair of life being sucked out of us. We who have life in the Church, need not despair as life is being sucked out of us. There is always hope.

Those of us who are mortal, without Christ, are only “mostly dead”; we are only all but dead. In Christ, all life is ours. When we feel life sucked away from us by the deceits and fraud of sin and Satan, we should, forgive me, but we should suck at the breast of Holy Mother Church, imbibing the life that is in Her. It is not physical life, but spiritual life, “a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”

          Yes, indeed, there is something magnificent and something of an allegory of the Gospel in The Princess Bride. Even the story The Princess Bride is not the real life story, and even in the real life story unfolding in the reading of the story there is something of the Word of God. In the beginning, at the Genesis of the movie, A boy, sick staying home from school, is brought the book The Princess Bride by his grandfather. Grandpa tells him it is a story that was read to him by his father, and his father before him. Starting to sound familiar? And his grandfather reads the story to his grandson. A child, whether sick or healthy, is always sick with sin; he is always mortal, sick unto death, “mostly dead.” Peter Falk, playing grandpa, looking rabbinic with his hoary head and hoary moustache, reads to his grandson, played by Fred Savage. This reminds us of the following passage from Scripture: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children” as milk in the breast to their souls’ health. Diligently means, that like grandpa, we return to the grandchildren to read them the story “next week”, meaning the next Sabbath, or the next Sunday; we who have had the weeks’ work suck the life out of us, have yet one task more to perform weekly, to read the story again, and to digest Miracle Max’s medicine and to sip our sickly chicken noodle soup, the Sacraments of Holy Mother Church. This is the way, this is the truth, this is the life of mortal man who is mortally wounded, sick unto death, and “most

Lent 1 – 2023 – Fr. Geromel

“We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.”

No longer President of these United States, Teddy Roosevelt spent a year hunting in Central Africa, before giving a speech at the Sorbonne, one of the colleges of the unrivaled medieval schools of learning, the University of Paris. As fate, indeed, Providence would have it, the speech was given on St. George’s Day, the patron saint of Christian knights on April 23rd, 1910. We know the speech, no doubt, very well. Most here would have heard it quoted by Nixon when he resigned. I want to relate this speech to our lessons today, as it exemplifies the virtues of Christian citizenship and a manly Christianity. I will, of course, quote the excerpt quoted the most from the “In the Arena” speech. But the full oration has a level of magnificence and incisive exhortation to degenerate civilizations such that the modern world, even in this month of President’s Day and Black History Month with its subsequent celebration of truly heroic characters, can hardly handle,our civilization having fallen, as it surely has (and as Teddy foresaw), so far from Christian manhood and womanhood to such an extent that we really cannot abide his words; we must away with them. Our children must not learn them. Our parents must forget them.

Professor Benjamin Wetzel, assistant professor of history at Taylor University outlined Teddy Roosevelt’s religious background as “His parents were members of various Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed congregations. In the Roosevelt household, prayers were regular, churchgoing was weekly, and little Teedie (as he was called) was often required to summarize the morning’s sermons. The 16-year-old . . . made a profession of faith in 1874 and became a member of his family’s congregation, Collegiate Reformed Church of St. Nicholas. . . . Teedie taught a “mission” Sunday school class for underprivileged children until he left for Harvard . . .”

“. . . Although he was hundreds of miles from home, he nevertheless continued his Sunday school teaching at Christ Episcopal Church in Cambridge (until he was discovered to be a Presbyterian and subsequently dismissed.)” But I suppose that’s good enough and we’ll claim him as a good wannabe Anglican!

Coming out of the wilderness of politics and the wilderness of Africa in 1910, nine years before his death, Theodore Roosevelt would have had that vigor of mind and insight, visionary insight, that our own St. Paul had when he, no stranger to the wilderness of politics or of geography, wrote to the Corinthians, “but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God . . . by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well-known . . . as chastened, and not killed . . . as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”

The beginning of Teddy’s famous quote speaks of critics and cynics. Who are these critics and cynics? Just as St. Paul faced critics, cynics, stoics, and all manner of Platonists in the ancient world, Teddy warned of the encroaching intelligentsia who stood aloof from the worker. While in no way a Marxist, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke words that the Bolsheviks and Tsarists should have heard in Russia but did not in 1917 just seven years later, that the Irish worker and Anglo-Irish landlord both should have heard in Ireland before the Easter Uprising of 1916 just six years later, neither did. Hear him, you idle both of the working class and of the educated.

“Such ordinary, every-day qualities include the will and the power to work, to fight at need, and to have plenty of healthy children. The need that the average man shall work is so obvious as hardly to warrant insistence. There are a few people in every country so born that they can lead lives of leisure. These fill a useful function if they make it evident that leisure does not mean idleness; for some of the most valuable work needed by civilization is essentially non-remunerative in its character, and of course the people who do this work should in large part be drawn from those to whom remuneration is an object of indifference. But the average man must earn his own livelihood. He should be trained to do so, and should be trained to feel that he occupies a contemptible position if he does not do so; that he is not an object of envy if he is idle, at whichever end of the social scale he stands, but an object of contempt, an object of derision.”

In short, he is saying that those men of leisure – in the classical sense of the word – those who do not quite get their hands dirty, the priests and professors and teachers, even the landed gentry and poets, even the musicians and bards, must give an account to the civilization that they serve – they do not exist for themselves. His words cut equally against the idle rich as against the idle poor. He warns,

“Let the man of learning, the man of lettered leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation to pose to himself and to others as a cynic, as the man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the man to whom good and evil are as one. The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes second to achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities—all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority, but of weakness”

Then come the quote we love so much, or must love the moment we hear them,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

And yet these wise words go on,

“Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride or slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not exactly what they actually are.”

And now we know the reason why, what we call the “In the Arena” speech, the same way we shortened MLK’s speech to the “I have a Dream Speech” is actually called, “Citizenship in a Republic.” It is a study of the duties and obligations of a free and, I dare say, Christian, or Judeo-Christian, or even Abrahamic citizenship.

Today, in our gospel, we see Jesus goes out into the wilderness. How would you describe the wilderness? This is how Teddy described it. He had just returned from a year in it.

His assessment? “ . . . to tame the shaggy roughness of wild nature, means grim warfare.” He says, “To conquer the wilderness means to wrest victory from the same hostile forces with which mankind struggled in the immemorial infancy of our race. The primeval conditions must be met by the primeval qualities which are incompatible with the retention of much that has been painfully acquired by humanity as through the ages it has striven upward toward civilization.”

What we see of the Devil today is nothing less than a Cynic, a fiend who criticizes and then seeks to destroy the creation that God made, and the civilization that man with God has developed, a “man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, [a] man to whom good and evil are as one. [A man who faces life] with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt.” The devil must destroy out envy that for which he never labored.

“Command that these stones be made bread.” The Devil did not have the faith to do this himself, when Jesus clearly said faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains. He sneered. He was a cynic. But Jesus, a faster in the wilderness, holds fast manfully to that which is true. “Man does not live by bread alone.” The one tortured by hunger can stand it a little longer, like a prisoner captive to a foe, he will not surrender information to the enemy, but will continue in torment a little longer. “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me” said Jesus a little later. Lunch can wait. “in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses . . . in imprisonments . . . in watchings, in fastings.”

“Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written . . .” Again, with the word of God on His lips, Jesus rebukes with truth the Father of Lies, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” We shall not rise higher in our own estimation of ourselves than the estimation in which God holds us, than that state of life to which it has pleased Almighty God to call us by His love for our potential and by His Providence. In our vocation is our perpetual-vacation. How? By faith-resting in the truth that God has not intended us for endless toil but to be eventually, endlessly free, in eternity. Hear Teddy again,

“The citizen must have high ideals, and yet he must be able to achieve them in practical fashion. No permanent good comes from aspirations so lofty that they have grown fantastic and have become impossible and indeed undesirable to realize. The impractical visionary is far less often the guide and precursor than he is the embittered foe of the real reformer, of the man who, with stumblings and shortcomings, yet does in some shape, in practical fashion, give effect to the hopes and desires of those who strive for better things.” An honorable McDonald’s worker is greater and does more good to the Glory of God and for his country than a fumbling and butchering surgeon, does he not?

“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Can you imagine? World peace. The whole globe subject to King Jesus, without a struggle, without a fight, just “fall down and worship” the Devil. Hear Teddy again,

“[T]he good man should be both a strong and a brave man; that is, he should be able to fight, he should be able to serve his country as a soldier, if the need arises. There are well-meaning philosophers who declaim against the unrighteousness of war. They are right only if they lay all their emphasis upon the unrighteousness. War is a dreadful thing, and unjust war is a crime against humanity. But it is such a crime because it is unjust, not because it is a war. The choice must ever be in favor of righteousness, and this whether the alternative be peace or whether the alternative be war. The question must not be merely, is there to be peace or war? The question must be, is it right to prevail? Are the great laws of righteousness once more to be fulfilled? And the answer from a strong and virile person must be “Yes,” whatever the cost. Every honorable effort should always be made to avoid war, just as every honorable effort should always be made by the individual in private life to keep out of a brawl, to keep out of trouble; but no self-respecting individual, no self-respecting nation, can or ought to submit to wrong.”

Here, beloved, is a succinct summary of Just War Theory. As St. James says, we war and struggle because of our desires and appetites. But righteousness, even in war, restrains immoderate lusts and appetites, saying to the greedy dictator, the greedy land and power grabber, thus and no further! Indeed, as Teddy outlines below, let us remember that lusts and appetites unchecked lead to the death of a civilization. Hear him.

“Finally, even more important than ability to work, even more important than ability to fight at need, is it to remember that the chief of blessings for any nation is that it shall leave its seed to inherit the land. It was the crown of blessings in Biblical times, and it is the crown of blessings now. The greatest of all curses is in the curse of sterility, and the severest of all condemnations should be that visited upon willful sterility. The first essential in any civilization is that the man and the woman shall be father and mother of healthy children, so that the race shall increase and not decrease. If this is not so, if through no fault of the society there is failure to increase, it is a great misfortune. If the failure is due to deliberate and willful fault, then it is not merely a misfortune, it is one of those crimes of ease and self-indulgence, of shrinking from pain and effort and risk, which in the long run Nature punishes more heavily than any other. If we of the great republics, if we, the free people who claim to have emancipated ourselves from the thralldom of wrong and error, bring down on our heads the curse that comes upon the willfully barren, then it will be an idle waste of breath to prattle of our achievements, to boast of all that we have done. No refinement of life, no delicacy of taste, no material progress, no sordid heaping up of riches, no sensuous development of art and literature, can in any way compensate for the loss of the great fundamental virtues; and of these great fundamental virtues the greatest is the race’s power to perpetuate the race.”

Here, we should add a disclaimer: Teddy is saying nothing here of any master race. Look at how he uses the word earlier in his speech: “To conquer the wilderness means to wrest victory from the same hostile forces with which mankind struggled in the immemorial infancy of our race.” He means the human race. Not the white race, or black race, or rainbow race. He is saying to every free society, of whatever ethnicity, populate your land, share the blessings of that, share the inheritance of that land with your inheritance! It is Americans, I am afraid, those born and bred here, who choose, more than the immigrants, not to inherit the land. The immigrant knows the blessing of this land and seeks to pass it on to his children. Those born here are the ones, by and large, who choose to make themselves extinct by willfully choosing to depopulate themselves from the land of their birth.

We can speak against abortion. Certainly, Teddy would agree, but such was not in Teddy’s mind when he spoke these words. Whether you agree or not, let me be plain. Teddy said elsewhere, “Birth control is the one sin for which the penalty is national death, race death; a sin for which there is no atonement.” I am not sure what he meant by “atonement” but I think I know. He doesn’t mean there is no redemption. He means that, according to the laws of nature, for both individuals and civilizations there is comes a natural time that the opportunity to amend or repair the lost time and offspring is past. Here I must stress that, like Teddy we are not Roman Catholics, and that, while that church defines such marital choices as mortal sin, we Anglicans have a different way of sizing things up: Sins of Malice and Sins of Infirmity, less legalistic and more concerned with the motives and intentions of the heart. We have a Christ Who has compassion on our infirmities. There are infirmities that make it unwise to try to stay abstinent without getting married. Likewise, once one is married, there are many, many infirmities (complications of personal psychology, relationship, and finances and resources) that make both abstinence during marriage unwise while at the same time the burden of further children similarly unwise. Yet, let me say this, infirmities, while a messy mix of personal motives and external factors, should still be acknowledged and asked to be healed. Sins of Malice are certainly scars that Christ can heal, but Christ can also heal Sins of Infirmity, complicated as to how much we are actually at fault, are scratches that are easily healed, but if not acknowledged, can be ghosts, haunting our spiritual lives, elephants in the room when we go into our prayer closet to be with the Lord. If we are to be Pro-Life, we encourage others to make good choices, choose wisely, and to choose life. Though ending a life is far greater morally matter by far than impeding a life from ever starting, still, we would be hypocrites if we did not carefully examine our own hearts and say, did we make good choices, did we choose wisely, did we choose life as much as we could? If we fear that we did not, we must take that to the Lord or live, I fear, with a ghost in our spiritual lives.

Our own Anglo-Catholic, T.S. Eliot, said this, and maybe by Eliot’s more careful, less blunt, words we can be inspired to see some aspect of hope, if not reparation, if not atonement by way of amendment: ‘[By accepting contraception,] “the world is trying . . . to form a civilized but non-Christian, mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in waiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization and save the world from suicide.”’

Let us pray again,

O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory” not our own, in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.


Epiphany 4  – 2023 – Fr. Geromel

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Does that mean every power? Does it mean that might makes right?

“For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” Does this mean that authority should always be obeyed? Does that mean that that is how the Church should work as well, it should always be obeyed?

Jesus seems to have commended this kind of earthly authority and said, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel”. So that makes this right, doesn’t it? The church should be authoritative like a military unit? We are the Church Militant, are we not?

Actually, we should look closer. Jesus commended someone having faith in the fact that Jesus could command someone to be healed from afar. He did not make a blanket statement about militaristic obedience, certainly not blind obedience, always being good.

There was a military unit, who turned out to have been secret Christians that I would like to tell you about. It was called the Theban Legion. The continuing bishop, Robert Harvey relates,

“A dramatic example of Christian witness at the heart of the Roman scene was found in the Theban Legion, which had been called from the Eastern provinces to deal with civil turbulence in Gaul. Upon arriving at a way-station in the Swiss Alps, its soldiers were directed to make the necessary sacrifice to the Emperor – each man in turn casting a few grains of incense upon a perpetual fire burning before a statue of the Emperor. They all refused. For their disobedience, every tenth man was executed and the order renewed. Again they refused and again the Legion was decimated. To those in charge, the Legion’s commander – himself a Christian – explained that they would obey any order consistent with their duty to the State, but that this thing they could not do. Other troops were called in to carry out the executions, and the whole Legion laid down its arms, suffering martyrdom for Jesus’ sake. It may be noted that there was no resistance. With arms and armor on the ground before them, the men stood silent, waiting for the executioner’s sword.”[1]

Both our Epistle and Gospel lessons were known, obviously, to those in the Theban Legions. There is an old rule, rather dismissed and overlooked today, that the witness of the martyrs has authority, even, we might say, to help us understand how to interpret scripture. It is not a fool proof plan of interpretation. None is. It is just another tool in our toolbox as we explore God’s Word, moving forward in our generation to understand the Bible’s impact and implications for our lives. So, do we understand Romans 13 as carte blanche, a free pass, for every dictator to grind us to dust under his thumb? The blood of the martyrs is witness against such an understanding of Romans 13.

Rather, there is another notion, an important one, used by the Non-Juroring Anglicans, those who refused to take a second oath to William of Orange in the late 1600s after James II fled to France. These Non-jurors believed in what is called “passive obedience” – that is passive, not as in just passively doing whatever one is told to do, but passive as in the opposite of active. We do not actively obey but passively obeyed. That is, did not take up arms against, did not rebel, but still did what we would now call “civil disobedience.” The English Non-Juror, John Kettlewell, defined Passive Obedience,

“PASSIVE OBEDIENCE to Sovereign Powers is keeping under their Obedience when we suffer wrongfully at their hands. . . . a Just and Lawful Authority must have Active Obedience: But when they come to punish against Laws, or for such Things as with a safe Conscience their Subjects could not act in; they are still to continue under their Obedience, and in a state of Subjection.”

This idea was prior to the English Civil War but the High Church Anglicans had had their suspicions confirmed in the execution of King Charles I (whom we celebrate on January 30th) and William Laud (whom we celebrated on January 10th) and in the bloody revolution of Oliver Cromwell and his Jhad-ist army. Indeed, the first Anglican, if I can say that, who taught such an approach was none other than St. Thomas More. According to us, a saint and holy example, according to the Roman Church, he is the patron saint of statesmen. He removed himself from public office, and they had to seek his blood, he did not revolt as others did against the changes.  

In reflecting on this bloodshed, Kettlewell explained in The Measures of Christian Obedience,

“That Christ is a Temporal and Secular King in Sion, i.e. the Church on Earth… And as for Earthly Kings, since they are but Deputies and Delegates of Christ the Supreme King of all, that they are no further to be submitted to, [further than] they act Serviceably and Subordinately under him; but that they may, yea, ought to be persecuted as Enemies and Apostates of King Jesus, if in anything they oppose and act against him. Now when men have once imbibed this Principle, they run on furiously, as every man must who understands it, into all the mischiefs of Rebellion and Bloodshed.”

This is simply to say what they had experienced at the hands of the self-righteous dissenters. When the Puritans had perceived that King Charles I was an apostate, they had to run furiously, into rebellion and mischief. They had lay violent hands on him, execute him, because, to their minds, he was not standing as a delegate and deputy of King Jesus. This, as I have already said, this Cromwellian intrigue and evil was not actually according to the principles of Holy Scripture, nor the witness of the Martyrs in the Roman Empire who, instead of rebelling against legitimate pagan rulers, chose passive obedience and martyrdom.

What should be the answer then? How do we respond against such injustice, if and when it happen to us? In short, we should recognize it for what it is, not the end of the story, or the end of the Republic, of the fall of Christian America. The English Civil War was not the end of the English Crown, it still lies happily on a third Charles, or soon will, even today. A peaceful transition of power has happened there. The English Civil War was not the end of the Church of England, indeed its finest hour and, on a certain level, finest prayer book was yet to be put together, the 1662. The English Civil War was not the end of the British Empire (of England, France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales), it was only the beginning of it, that which would become, for good or ill, or parent and the largest Empire ever to this day. When we see injustice at the hands of secular rulers, we should see it for what it is, an opportunity for prayer, witness, more prayer, more fasting, and hope, that greater days are coming, “shining to the perfect day” of our, and of our theological adversaries’, King Jesus.

We should recognize it for what it is, the symptom of a level of brokenness in human society, a level of dysfunction. Someone shared this with me recently and I want to draw our attention to it.


  • Blind Obedience
  • Don’t challenge authority
  • Don’t ask questions
  • Never challenging family norms (how we dress, who we partner with, what we believe)
  • Elders can treat you however they want and you must show respect in return
  • Limited boundaries with authority
  • Based on age instead of maturity or behaviour
  • Only given when you do things “right”


  • Praise and compliments
  • Smiling
  • Verbal appreciation
  • Sharing personal feelings and ideas
  • Showing interest in each other’s lives
  • Patience
  • Affection
  • Acts of kindness
  • Being allowed to be yourself
  • Tolerance for different beliefs
  • Boundaries
  • Respect between generations

Now, I am not saying I agree with absolutely everything there. But there is a high degree of consistency between those principles on Scripture. Look at King Saul. There we have “Blind Obedience, Don’t challenge authority, Don’t ask questions, Never challenging family norms, Elders can treat you however they want, Limited boundaries with authority, Based on age not maturity, and only given when you do things “right”’ When we look at the story of Saul and David, David’s wife, Saul’s daughter, and Jonathan his son, we are talking about what is clearly a highly dysfunctional family. If you throw a javelin at your own son because someone else doesn’t show up to dinner, and call your own son the son of a “perverse woman”, that’s not a healthy scenario, and it effected the whole nation. The Stewarts were not as functional as they could have been, and neither was David’s family, and those factors, too, effected whole nations.

But let us look at the reign of King Jesus in our families, communities and lives, through the Church and through the words of the Bible. Praise and compliments, “do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same”, “Jesus heard it and marvelled, and said them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” Smiling, “Lord, lift thou up thy countenance upon us.” Verbal appreciation, ““Well, done, thou good and faithful servant.” Sharing personal feelings and ideas – “Jesus wept”. Showing interest in each other’s lives, “ Patience, Affection, Acts of kindness, Being allowed to be yourself, these are really quite obvious in the life of Jesus. “Tolerance for different beliefs” is a tough one, but Jesus does not force anyone to accept his teaching, but is patient towards them, and in this he respects boundaries. “Respect between the generations” – “Honor thy Father and thy Mother”, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness”, “Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

In short, we Christians have the inside scoop, even better than the secularists, what functional behavior is, in family, in community, in nation. Are we perfect? No. Can something sometimes be pointed out to us by the secularists and we need to go back to our Scriptures and our Tradition and our God-given reason and double-check if we are on the right road? Absolutely, God gave us theological opponents for a reason, to keep us honest, humble and patient. At the end of it all, however, ours is to pray and speak with love against those who would allow our families, communities, churches, and nation to fall into dysfunction and authoritarian and unhealthy tendencies. That is our role as salt and light. We very rarely are to practice anything less than passive obedience (“Government should not be changed for light and transient reasons” as our Declaration has pointed out) and active obedience should be done carefully, in case we serve an ungodly power and not the living God. If it was good enough for the martyrs, it is usually good enough for us.

[1] Robert C. Harvey, To the Isles Afar Off, 44.

Epiphany 2 – 2023 – Fr. Geromel

Today, in our Gospel, we have a story that would just be categorized by academic anthropologists and sociologists, professors of world religions, as exactly what we know it as today, “An Epiphany”. And here these academics do not mean a manifestation of God, or Theophany, as the Orthodox call it, but just an insight, a light bulb moment, that a prophetic figure has and that helps start a new religion or reform an old one. Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan corresponds to a great many similar events in the history of other world religions. Certainly, Abraham hearing God’s voice, Moses seeing God in another Theophany, the burning bush, or on Mt Sinai, these are Epiphany experiences in Christianity and the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam being the largest of many Abrahamic religions. Certainly, Buddha escaping his home, his safety net, as a boy and discovering suffering, and then sitting under a tree for quite awhile before achieving enlightenment, was an epiphany. That moment that Buddha discovered the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering – this was an Epiphany. This was anticipated earlier by the Jains, holy monks who saw the old Hindu Vedic religion filled as it was with animal sacrifice as cruel. Their Epiphany and the maxim of their new religion was “Do no Harm.” So they step around bugs to this day.  Zoroaster or Zarathustra coming to a sacred river and discovering that the old religion, the old pantheon of gods and goddesses in Babylon, were evil, demonic, and that rather than those we should follow, Ahura-Mazda and his seven aspects or qualities: “Light, Good Mind, right, Dominion, Piety, Well-being, Immortality.” – This was an Epiphany.

          The fact that our Gospel lesson happened at a river, even the river Jordan, to the modern studier of religions is nothing special. Egypt had its religious river, the Nile. Hinduism the Ganges. Even Rudyard Kipling’s Kim tells the story of a Tibetan monk traveling the breadth of India looking for a river into which the Lord Buddha shot an arrow, which, when one washed therein, one was cleansed spiritually. The natives of India look at this lama, this holy man, with disbelief. India is full of sacred rivers, they kept telling him. As the Celtic religion had many holy wells, so religion tends to be associated with bodies of water. That fact, in itself, almost becomes symbolic of the modern notion that any religion, like any holy river, will get you to holiness, just as any river will get your body clean. This is notion that any river will do, we Christians, simply put in the heretical “I’m spiritual but not religious” category. So fair is fair.

          Even John the Baptist had followers who seemed to be so stuck on him that they couldn’t follow the One John was pointing to, they are the Mandaeans, a religion that still exists today. Mohammed followed Christ. He had an Epiphany from the Archangel Gabriel. Joseph Smith had an Epiphany from a false angel, whose name I will not mention here. Even in that religion’s story, the Mighty Mississippi was a time of change for Mormonism. It was in Carthage, Illinois, on the banks of the Mississippi, or 14 miles from there, that Joseph Smith was killed and mainstream Mormonism was then led by Brigham Young, eventually, to Utah. They crossed the Mississippi and into the category of a world religion. We can even say that Martin Luther had a Copernican sort of Epiphany in realizing the somewhat lost doctrine of Justification by Faith while lecturing at Wittenberg, and a reform of the Christian religion was on its way. Wittenberg lies on the river Elbe, so we can jokingly say that he too had an Epiphany at a river. So, we can see many rivers, and many Epiphanies, flow down the history of religion.

Of course, the classic Christian response to all of this is that none of these other religions have the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. None of these other “rivers”, so to speak, do what they are supposed to do. And that is certainly crucially important to remember. If the waters of baptism, in Christian Baptism, carry with them the virtue or power of the substitutionary offering of Christ on the Cross, no other river is going to cut it. But there is a further point about most all of these religions, something these many false religions, false rivers we might say, have in common: they are gnostic. That is to say, there is certainly an Epiphany, but it is an Epiphany that is “enlightenment” or an insight into how it is that we are to get out of our bodies, to get out of this world. Hinduism seeks Atman, out of the body. Jainism goes further saying that animal sacrifice, which has to do with bodies, makes classical Hinduism impure – we must get further away from materiality and the body. Buddhism seeks Nirvana, and release from the Wheel of Life, the Cycle of Reincarnation, indeed, seeks to be out of the body. Zoroastrianism seeks mind over matter in its agenda of good thoughts, but we admit they, like Islam, have a strong place for the importance of the body, compared to other religious programs and agendas. Everywhere we look though, we find this tendency towards Gnosticism. Christianity devolved into it early and easily. Islam has it Sufis, its Bahai, and other syncretic results, such as the Sikh religion, all with epiphanies galore. Even the statement, “I’m spiritual but not religious” is a gnostic statement – because it is saying that spirituality, what the spirit does, is more important than what the body does, for “religion” is what we do with our bodies, our rituals, our routines. Someone can have Catholic spirituality without Catholic religion, for Catholic religion requires us to get our A-S-S to Mass.

But, besides the exclusiveness of Christianity, due the substitutionary atonement of Christ Crucified, we have a subtler exclusivity, or uniqueness, in today’s Gospel lesson. Here the Incarnate Christ, the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, going down to have his body washed with water. This in itself is just not on the Gnostic agenda. And, in fact, Gnostic Christians in Egypt, who couldn’t stand the doctrine of Christ becoming Flesh, celebrated the Epiphany or Manifestation of today’s Revelation “This is my beloved Son” as Christ’s true birthday or nativity. The problem for their insight about all of this was that the event was still a perfectly Catholic event – Matthew records Jesus as having said on this occasion, when John Baptist tried to stop him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The revelation through the descent of a Dove was important, but Jesus submitting Himself to baptism, as one having a body which needed washing (even if there was no sin to wash away) undermines the whole Gnostic program and agenda. It is like the Resurrection of the Body, and the Incarnation, foolishness to the Greeks, that is the whole Hellenic and Oriental culture, even our own culture, (A) which sees nothing that needs to be redeemed about the body, because only our spirits sin, not our bodies – we are just doing what comes naturally and (B) does not want a God with a body, just the appearance of a body, because that means that our bodies can be punished, not just our souls, in the afterlife. That’s right, a suffering soul is a lot less scary to us than a suffering body. If only our souls are tormented in the afterlife, that seems a lot less painful to us, I think, than our souls joined to our bodies once again, and both being tormented for their mutual sin for ever and ever.

That’s probably enough for me to say to you today, but I will go a step further, because I think we need to think about this. There are two extreme ways we can look at all of these different epiphanies that people have, all these prophetic visions in the history of religions. The first is that we can see them all as having some measure of the truth, and therefore equally valid religious experiences, indeed, that they are all equally true. This is the angle of those who are “spiritual but not religious”. Here is only tantalizing stuff for the mind. Isn’t this interesting. And isn’t that interesting. And wouldn’t it be cool if this or that were so. That religion is still evolving, as a collective consciousness, matches nicely with the idea that we are still evolving, that we having gotten to the bottom of our investigation of religions, therefore we don’t have to make any definite choice yet, and definitely choose a religion and definitely do something with our bodies yet. Yes, that is one extreme, one perspective that is false.

But there is another extreme that is, probably false, and destroys the purposes of holy religion. This is the fundamentalist perspective. It says that all other religions are, fundamentally, demonic, false lies of the devil. There is certainly much to that. There is definitely a lot of falsehood in false religions. But there is a subtle problem with this. If they only appeared to be true, then ours might only appear to be true as well. In fact, this fundamentalist perspective aligns with some of Scripture, but not will all of it, which is so often the way that fundamentalism operates. Listen to our Epistle today, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation . . .” Certainly, Paul is writing to Christians at Rome. But we can apply the same to teachers in other religions, to an extent. Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets . . .” This is certainly, mostly, Israelite prophets. But Jethro, the Priest of Midian, as a prophet of the Living God, spoke to his son-in-law, our Father Moses. Balaam, of Moab, obeyed the voice of God. These both were not of the Israelite peoples. But they at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke it time past. James says, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the father of lights”. Was even John the Baptist absolutely right about everything? No. He is hardy mentioned and yet is mentioned as pretty much right, but sometimes a little off in his understanding of what God is about to do.

Therefore, while we believe and confess that the Christ is the Son of the Living God, the true incarnate image of His Father, we must also believe and confess that in God’s Providence, the Holy Spirit was preparing the hearts of other nations to receive Christianity. Even when a prophetic voice is heard and a new religion begins, that religion is often corrupted and mixed up with other religions within just a few generations. So it is quite hard to tell just how much these reasonably true voices became absorbed and distorted through the generations leading up to Christianity. Nevertheless, while there is much mixture elsewhere, we know that God has, in His Providence, has done two things (1) he has preserved to himself nuggets elsewhere in other religions which we know that missionaries find all the time when they go out preaching the Gospels, traces of holy and true religion in the false, which can be used to bring people to Christ and (2) that God has preserved to Himself first in Abraham’s family, next in the Nation of Israel, and finally, in these latter days, in the Orthodox and Catholic Faith, a People speaking the true oracles of God, the very word of God Himself, salt and light to those around them. This salt and light we must manifest, especially in this season of Epiphany.   

Epiphany 1 – 2023 – Fr. Geromel

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

This verse goes on to say, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” When we think of one way that the world, the modern world, looks at our worship, a thing that sticks out, that doesn’t fit into the world’s perspective today, is the use of the common cup or common chalice. Is this a skewed viewpoint that the world has of us? It recently occurred to me that among the many things that even the Christians around us might not quite get about us stands this common chalice. As I searched the internet about this subject I found folks “going off” about it, back at the turn of the century and now. Isn’t it unsanitary? Why would people do that? Sure, there is “Anglican” on our sign outside. What’s that? (When I reported to my new unit as a chaplain in VDF yesterday, a Major in command over me, who is quite involved in Jerry Falwell’s church asked me what denomination. “Anglican? I don’t know what that is.”) Sure, there is “Catholic” on the sign. Why would anyone want to be “Cath-o-lic”? Sure, there are pictures of saints and angels all over the inside of our church. And yet, if someone can make it past the sign in front of our building and the pictures of Christ on the Cross, and Saints and Angels, inside our building, (without turning around and running back through the door) there still stands one heck of a “stumbling block” between us and the World, and even us and other Christians, and that is our common cup.

Are there reasons why we use it except for its ancient use and long tradition? Yes, there are. In fact, I have understood that our prayer book, the American prayer book, only allows one chalice on the altar. Why is that? There are biblical reasons for it. There are Holy Tradition reasons for it. Hear some of the reasons for one cup and one cup only upon the altar. That idea, “One cup” is consistently used symbolically in Holy Scripture.

Psalm 23:5 (NKJV) You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

Jeremiah 25:25 (ESV) Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”

Psalm 116:12-13 (ESV) What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me: I will lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

Here there are these Old Testament texts which rather obviously foretell and tell us of the Holy Eucharist to come. The first (Psalm 23) tells us of how God places a table before us in the presence of our enemies, those who accuse of wrongdoing (our spiritual accusers), how he anoints us, and the one cup on the table overflows. It corresponds to Psalm 42 & 43 where we go unto the altar of God “while the enemy oppresses” us. But we trust in the Lord anyway. Jeremiah speaks of how God’s wrath and love are both kindled in the cup of blessing which we drink, a savor of life unto life for those that believe (with Faith and Repentance) in the presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and a savor of death unto death for those who presume to eat, not discerning the Body, and drink judgment unto themselves. Psalm 116 speaks of the holy oblation or offering in the Holy Eucharist, where we “lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” during the consecration service.

In the NT we see Matthew 20:22-23 (ESV) Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” Jesus answered them, “You will drink my cup . . .” in the Last Supper. The cup is symbolically a cup of wrath, which is also the cup of blessing, and Jesus refers to it as corresponding to the Crucifixion after the Last Supper saying to the Father “all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.” So, in the Eucharist when we use the one cup, the one chalice, we symbolize and evoke these places of Scripture by keeping to one cup.

Fascinatingly, Luther says of this cup:

“In reference to this particular cup, then, Matthew and Mark may be understood as saying that each of the apostles had a cup before him on the table, or at least that there were more cups than one. But now, when Christ gives a new, special drink of his blood, he commands them all to drink of this single cup.” What Luther is saying is that, in the Passover Supper, each has a cup and drinks sips of blessing throughout that Supper, and these blessings or toasts having already been drunk, at the end of the meal, Jesus takes this one cup and makes it a cup of super-blessing, offering his own blood therein.

St. Paul attests to the importance of this cup by saying, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16) If we relate this to what we just said, we might speculate that, if there were multiple cups on the table at the Last Supper, now there is only one cup on the table in the New Testament church. We have no evidence that it was otherwise. We have mounds of evidence that it has always been one cup on the altar.

Now this seems to make much of a small thing and yet it never occurred to anyone until early in this last century to send holy food around on little trays and in little cups. Rather, all, whether Orthodox, Roman, Lutheran, Reformed or Anglican, or Methodist, were to receive from the same dish and the same cup. Occasionally, in Denmark or Finland, you find individual communion chalices used, but this is still poured from the one chalice on one table, and bread, unless so much that it cannot be contained on it, on one plate, which also stand on one table or altar. Beloved, this is to symbolize, among other things, our oneness between each other as the Church and our oneness with Christ, Who invites us to His table, whereon stands one chalice, his chalice, one plate, his plate, one blood, his blood, one body, his body.

In Epiphany season, we are to manifest what God has manifested. So, it is fitting that today we speak of this issue, concerning which many around us find us doing something very, very strange – which tells you how far things have gotten from the overwhelming practice that they would find us strange, because we are doing something that is simply that which has been done everywhere, by all, at all times – offering one cup.

I must go further, however, and speak of how we receive. Part of what it means that we go forward to the communion rail is that we are giving ourselves to Him in response to His giving Himself to us. This is a reasonable service. We do not receive in our pews, but make a liturgical movement, going up to partake of Him Who was broken and divided for us. It is quite symbolically powerful when we partake as one.

A very powerful way to attest to this oneness is to partake of the same bread and of the same cup. It is arguably the case that we should also all and every one of us partake as much as possible, as much as reasonable (for we offer a reasonable service), in the same way. The standard way to receive is to receive by sipping the chalice. Another less standard (but permissible) way is to receive by intinction or only in one kind, which is sometimes quite reasonable. But the standard must always be acknowledged as the standard – and it is a standard for a reason.

When we are one body, we partake of one table. The world says, we might become sick from one another, and this possibility is within the realm of what is reasonable medically (but not medically probable, I should add). We might become sick from each other simply by showing up to church at all and, in fact, many have chosen to stay away entirely; even now they stay away in many churches. Are we still one body? Of course. Is it, however, manifested that we are one body when we all watch from different computers at home? Not as much.

Our spiritual adversary absolutely hates it when there is manifested unity and, I am afraid, the more we manifest it, the more enraged our adversary and accuser becomes. When we are not manifesting unity, he delights in accusing, he says, look, they claim to be one, but as soon as I send plagues among them, they scatter, and no longer manifest the unity of the Body by gathering as one.

Did you know that the reason we have an urge to kiss babies is a natural instinct to share our germs with the baby so that the baby might build up antibodies? It is part of the reason, I am sure, why a mother mammal licks her young. If that is so, I would ask, are we not a stronger body both physically and spiritually, when, ever so slightly, we share our germs with one another in the common cup? Is this not what inoculation is? To introduce just a little of the bacteria or virus into our system in order to inoculate us? We so often accept the principle of the vaccine when medically provided to us, yet run away from the natural immunity provided by our sociating and fellowshipping together both in the pews, at fellowship, and at the altar rail. You have often heard it said, I am sure, that the wine will kill the germs, that a silver cup, especially with gold plating on the inside, will kill the germs. But even if that doesn’t happen entirely, doesn’t it seem reasonable that whatever germs happen to be left are enough to inoculate us, rather than to make us sick? I’m happy to defer to our experts on that.

But let me go on, I will borrow an analogy from a Lutheran minister writing about the common chalice 20 years ago, before COVID. He points out, isn’t it strange that we accept food made by unbelievers, all sorts and conditions of men, folks who could have all sorts of unbiblical lifestyles, who make our food at fast food restaurants, but distrust that holy bread and holy wine prepared right in front of us by people we trust on this altar? And where Christ, technically, is at the same time restaurant manager, cook, and the food itself?

Right now, beloved, many churches are trusting to little lunchable packages of grape juice and bread pellets, prepared by who knows, and sold in church catalogs and shipped from miles away, instead of that which is prepared by our own local family, by our own ma and pop restaurant, in the local church! This preference for sealed packages is an outworking of our bizarre (and perhaps misplaced) trust in three powerful things in our culture: mass production, government oversight, and plastic. It is trust in three things that borders, I fear, on idolatry.

Ozzy Osbourne in one of his songs says, “I think I’ll buy myself some plastic water.” And this strikes me as very much our fascination with the sterile. Plastic is sanitary – sometimes – but has an aura of sanitation. It always seems to evoke sanitary and sterile and germ-free. It is culturally entrenched in our minds that plastic = sanitary. Water is only sanitary… sometimes. Combine the two ideas, and a very safe way, as our culture seems to understand it, to have a completely sanitary drink of water is to have a nice drink of plastic water. The problem is, it ceases to nourish or do what it is supposed to do, not if it is plastic and, even if the idea of “plastic water” evokes the idea of being completely sanitary.

Likewise, beloved, everything we touch in this world that is going to do us some good is going to potentially do us some harm. We cannot live off of “plastic water”. The mother inoculates her babies from germs by sharing milk with her children, even when she is sick herself. Christ our Physician shares Himself with us as a mother shares milk with her children.

So, we come forward to the altar rail, and we try, although it is so very hard, to offer ourselves as completely to our Lord as He completely offers Himself to us. We are fearful to do so, as we are fearful to give ourselves completely to any other person. We might get hurt! We might get sick! But our DNA is in that chalice, there’s a little bit of saliva in that chalice. That is true. As one family, it is not unfitting that we share our DNA with one another. How enraged our spiritual adversary becomes when he remembers that God gave us bodies, and DNA. How enraged he becomes when husband and wife become one flesh. How enraged he becomes when we share one meal, and hand each other coffee cups and share a stirring soon at fellowship, when we share our DNA in that way. We do the same in a common chalice.

Our Lord continues to invite us. I continue to offer you the Blessed Sacrament in such a way that you may sip of the chalice, intinct, or simply take of the sacred host. These are perfectly reasonable ways to take the Sacrament. This is sermon is not intended to call out those who do not sip from the chalice. I don’t try to pay attention to this, but I form the impression that some in this congregation always sip, some always intinct, and some do one or the other depending on how they might be feeling. That has always been the case, even before Covid. When we are making that determination, this is simply another tool in your belt as you try to offer yourself most fully in reasonable service to our Lord. Besides just considering whether we have a slight sniffle in the morning, let us also investigate and examine our hearts, on the morning of, and ask our hearts if there is any reason why we are not sipping from the chalice, sharing our lips with the Jesus who kisses us in that chalice, and sharing ourselves, in a reasonably innocuous (and possibly inoculating) way with our fellow believers gathered around one table, and one chalice, and one paten, one body, one blood, one God.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” In the Name of…

Christmas, 2022 – Fr. Geromel

On a normal day, to wander around a large retail bookstore is a lovely thing, but especially around the Holidays. There is something cozy about the whole thing. Yet, taking a step back, there is something a bit ridiculous as well. Here we have folks wandering around, perusing books, very likely for themselves and, occasionally, they might run into something that will work as a gift for someone else. We’ve all done it. The market has “banked” on us shopping as much for ourselves as for others.

If you want to see what will be in the rummage sales and thrift stores of the future, just take a look at the retail bookstore of today. Your wise and prudent used bookstore owner is unlikely to ever touch the vast majority of vapid, here today, gone tomorrow, faddishness among the retail bookseller’s wares.

As I sit to write, from my vantage point I can see the Psychology section: “How to Meet Your Self”. “The Feeling Good Handbook.” “Recovery Freedom from Addictions.” The Personal Growth section: “Love UnFu*ked: Getting your relationship sh!t together”, a small missive that claims to be filled with helpful ways to get out of bad relationships and into good ones perches there garishly attracting my eye. And it lies kitty-corner to [a book on an activity that husbands and wives do, a well-known ancient Asian text on the subject, including “A Position a Day”] “Kama Sutra: A Position a Day.” The irony of those two books standing next to each other is matched with the irony that both books are almost arbitrarily categorized as “Personal Growth” books. A bookshelf over, we find (also in the “Personal Growth” section) “How to be Sad” at the top, and “How to Not Die Alone” at the bottom, and in between, “How to Host a Viking Funeral”!

From my vantage point, I see celebrities showing us their true selves, in the “New Nonfiction” section. As if the celebrities, who live their lives quite often if not professionally as actors, suddenly show their Nonfiction selves the minute that a publicist shows up to publicize them. I have to say, I was tempted by Alan Rickman’s diaries, with a forward by Emma Thompson, as well as by Rob Halford’s “Biblical” – meaning his random thoughts on being the lead singer of the heavy metal band, Judas Priest. But if either can actually show me the true Alan Rickman or the real Rob Halford, I’ll eat my Judas Priest concert T-shirt.

One sad reality is that, when we were once told not to judge a book by its cover, cover appeal is all that matters here in this bookstore space. One might hope that the Bible section is a nice place to take a breather, but many of the marketed bibles, designed to be gifted rather than to be read, will likely end up in the rummage sales and thrift stores of the future as well. Indeed, one is overwhelmed by the sheer weight of words that stand shoulder-to-shoulder, bookshelf-to-bookshelf, in a large room filled with other gifts, and games, and dainties and coffee. Such a volume of books would have likely been the envy of many an ancient and wise culture.

But, alas, we have gone from a largely illiterate culture just few centuries or even decades ago to a literate culture with nothing to be literate about. The canon of what is good and healthy to read is no longer agreed upon. The classics one finds hidden like gems in a barnyard refuse pile. The Graham Greene novels are somewhere. The Tolkien epics another. The gods of Diversity, having done their damage, our truth is diffused, or has become “my truth”. And we find that the profound and wise literature has been proliferated by rapid publication right alongside of the flamboyantly proliferated perversity. The result is that the profound is still quite hard to find, still rare, despite the ability for us to print, bind and ship, truth faster and easier than at any other time in the history of the world.

And then imagine that all this is set before our culture and it is said to us, “here, buy a book, buy another half off, give to others at Christmas, to tell them, ‘I Love You.’” Think of the number of words standing on a bookshelf, waiting to be bought. Think of the weight of boxes shipped from one end of the earth to the other, all for us to say to one another, “I Love You” at Christmas. Yet I cannot be too hard on the whole reality, no matter how ridiculous it is when you think about it philosophically. Christmas keeps the economy chugging year-round, just as Love, which the Christ Child brings at Christmas, makes the metaphysical world turn round and round all year round.

And yet, why is it, that we buy and buy to say, “I Love You”? Wouldn’t it be easier just to say, “I Love You”? True, but that isn’t the whole story. While we might say, philosophically, that the seed of all things is, “I Love You”, the blossom, the trunk, the roots, the whole plant, of Love, unfolds from “I Love You”, molecule upon molecule, cell next to cell, branching forth into a beautiful, beautiful, flower.

Why Christmas Cookies? It’s a way to say “I Love You” that delights multiple senses. Smell, taste, sight, feeling. Cookies don’t make a sound, but we have Christmas cards that do. Just add that into the gift mix and you have said, “I Love You” to all five senses.

The Story must unfold in our lives, and in the lives of humanity. It must branch from one person to another; it must become weighty with many words, many acts, many kindnesses. Love requires multiplication not only of words, but of deeds; not only of deeds, but of physical things. We live in a physical world, and love must be both psychological and physical. That is, then, why there is some really intuitive logic in having a book on healthy psychological relationships standing next to a book on techniques for pleasurable physical, intimate, lovemaking – and both in the context of “Personal Growth”. We are soul and body. Our love naturally becomes “incarnate” through physical gifts we give to one another. Husband and wife give tangible gifts to one another and hugs, and kisses, and pleasurable lovemaking one to another. All of it, one way or another, physical. Parents give tangible toys at Christmas and warm, cozy, snuggles and hugs to their children. God as the First Cause gives us all this, and gives us sacraments as well. “Every good gift and every perfect gift” experienced in this world is both psychological and physical. This is precisely as God intended it.

At Christmas, we are given a story, a human story, and that story is written in our Bibles, tangible, physical, Bibles, filled with words. Whether they are Bibles that have lasted hundreds of years, family bibles that have been passed on from generation to generation, or cheap ones handed out by Gideon’s or sold in five-and-dimes, or even interesting translations, with attractive, even commercial, titles, sold at such bookstores and given as gifts by grandparents to children and teenagers – Bibles like the “Lego Bible” or “The Racecar Bible” – yes, bought by grandparents and godparents, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the kiddos might look at the cool cover and judge that the Bible is not as dull on the inside as they had thought, and read that Story.

The Christmas story comes in the middle of our Bibles, and this is fitting given that the Christmas story is the seed of that fuller and longer Bible story which extends from Genesis to Revelation. The Christmas story is the story of the story. And we are especially given it in our narrative from St. Luke. It is a mini story of the larger story of the Bible, but it is the germinating power that gives the rest of the story – a story that reaches back thousands of years, even to the Book of Genesis and the creation of the world, and reaches forward to our lives today (for we are still a part of that story) – yes, a germinating power that gives the rest of the story it’s saving power. Fittingly, the germinating story begins with a supernatural seed by the Holy Spirit and a physical egg, which becomes a human male baby, and saves the rest of the story from all the bad stuff that the story can get itself into – all the intrigues, and murders, and downright dirty, cheating, treacherous, falsehood-filled nastiness that the human heart can concoct and activate in the world.

It is such a story, that even the nasty mythmakers and perverted storytellers can’t keep away from it. The world is intrigued by this story. A baby is born. Such a simple story. People come with gifts. Yes, baby showers happen all the time. People just like shepherds, people who are employed doing menial tasks that require them to lose hourly wages when they take off work, take off work anyway and go and see newborn babies – it happens all the time! What is so special about this baby? Why is it that we can’t stay away from it?

But what if, what if, the seedling story is true and the truth is that that Baby, of all babies, is the one Baby that is destined to lead all those who want to be led back into paradise, a paradise that was lost when Adam and Eve ate an apple at the beginning of the story. What if the story is true? The possibility is so powerful that even those who can’t muster the faith to believe it are still captured by the attractiveness of it, drawn into its magnetic field impulsively, awe-filled, irresistibly.

What if? What if it’s all true? What if this is the baby that we’ve all been waiting for? Does it belong in fiction or non-fiction? It’s so ridiculous that it might be so, that it could be so. That’s what people ponder moment-by-moment. It’s why the silly magazines at the front of the retail bookstore and at the end of the checkout line talk about it as if it’s Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. It sells, sure. But it sells for a reason. It’s still news!

True it is that we are a literate culture that doesn’t know what to be literate about, who have no cultural canon that defines us anymore. George Washington never chopped down the Cherry Tree. Betsy Ross never real made the Star-spangled Banner. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the tall figure he was made out to be. Paul Bunyan never had a blue ox. But this one story, while it is culturally becoming more and more foreign, is still – so far – intuitively impossible to erase from the culture. It speaks to the longing of every human heart. No baby is perfect. No baby completes us. No baby makes everything alright. But for some unknown reason it is written on the human heart that some baby, somewhere, is supposed to be perfect. Some baby, somewhere, completes us and will make everything alright. That is why the Christmas story continues to capture our imagination.

I might even be willing to go out on a limb, that this phenomenon is very possibly not so much driven by biblical literacy as it is by genetic instinct. I wouldn’t be surprised if we know this story is supposed to be true from our first parents downward, the same way that the crab knows how to waddle on the beach, or the salmon knows how to go upstream to lay its eggs, or the bird knows how to fly. We know innately that we have been promised by our Creator, that someday, somehow, a baby will save us from ourselves. It was spoken infallibly to our first parents. The promise was made by the One who made the Universe. And it has remained in the human heart of all cultures ever since.

Advent 4, 2022 – Fr. Geromel

“Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy Name; leave us not.” Jeremiah 4:9

What is it to “Rejoice in the Lord”, especially during the Christmas season? St. Paul immediately answers that question, simply, perhaps. “Be careful for nothing: but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

Many rejoice at Christmas, but do they rejoice in the Lord? A similar statement of St. Paul appears to us in Philemon 1:20 “Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.” Or rather, as other translations relieve us of any squeamishness – “refresh my heart in the Lord.”

This phrase, “in the Lord”, therefore, is a key one to getting at something profound.

When something is “in the Lord” it has an eternal significance, it will last forever. Rejoicing or joy in others outside of the Lord does not because “All flesh is grass”, all things like the flower of the field is cut down. “The end of all things is at hand.”

This is what John the Baptist, like the other prophets before him, preached. Today we see John the Baptist preach, “Behold the Lamb of God.” He presents to the people of Israel the one thing that doesn’t fade away, the one human being who isn’t grass to be mowed down and thrown into the fire or the compost heap, the exception that proves the rule that all men are mortal.

Besides that inspiring thought, there is a practicality and down-to-earth thing in doing something “in the Lord.” “Be careful for nothing: but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” That’s pretty practical. Don’t worry. Say your Grace before eating your meal. Pray daily.

Even though this is something we teach children to do from a very young age, how often do we forget to do this very thing? We worry. We forget to say grace. We forget to pray daily.

All three happen to us in succession. We worry. We are anxious. And forgetfulness follows. God’s goodness is forgotten. Prayer is forgotten. From a spiritual standpoint, the whole day falls apart in rapid fire succession. The domino effect can start in the blink of an eye.

In the blink of an eye, the season of Giving and Forgiving can become a moment of forgetting and even regretting. Yes, to switch us from focus on the Christ Child, our spiritual adversary focusses us on what psychologists might call our own inner child, our own needs and wants, our own fears, even our regrets for the errors of the past.

Thus, as a bulwark against spiritual blindness in this matter it is very important that “in the Lord” follows the word “Rejoicing” at Christmas and the word “Joy” in others at Christmas. Is there a reason for the season, a reason for rejoicing? Yes, it is the Christ Child coming, and he who is the most fragile and the most vulnerable – a tiny baby – is the strongest thing in the Universe. No need to worry. He who needs and wants from a human mother, also provides everything he needs, even forming his own Mother from the foundation of the world. He who fears, as a little child fears, can assuage all fears and wipe every tear.

Our Rejoicing, outside of the Lord, at any feast or festival, any fun social gathering, is at best a sociological phenomenon, a ghost of human interaction, which will be here and gone tomorrow like a Twitter post, or a flash mob. At worst, rejoicing outside of the Lord, is a pagan feast, worship of our spiritual adversary, and agreement or a covenant with Hell, to try to escape the Hellishness of our own lives.

Joy in one another in the Lord is to acknowledge that the best of all human relationships is founded in the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. There is some eternal significance in it, in that the love that exists in a human relationship, it is the same eternal Love that interpenetrates and absorbs the Holy Trinity, in such a way that the Holy Trinity can still love outside of Himself; He is not self-absorbed, but fully-absorbed in Love, a peculiar and overabundant love that overflows and creates love outside of Himself.

Otherwise, at best, human relationships are simply a ghost of human interaction, a sociological phenomenon. At worst, human relationships outside the Lord are using other people, abusing other people, for some kind of self-absorbed need spent wastefully on our inner child.

And this is very practical indeed, when we, as Christians, go about as little Christ Childs to Holiday parties and gatherings, not, we hope, to serve our inner child, but to serve the Christ Child, and imitate the Christ Child, in something that is very important.

We in the Church, or we might say in our immediate family, are like the Holy Trinity, we should be absorbed in Love for one another, but not in a self-absorbed manner that leaves zero room for us to love outside of our immediate family, or our own congregation. There is no room for cliquishness in the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is always God and we shall never be so fully divine as those Persons. Yet that does not stop the Holy Trinity from welcoming us in, so far as is right and proper given His fully Divine status. The Holy Trinity is not a holy club, a holy clique, a family that does not absorb itself in reaching out through hospitality and caring for those individuals outside of Himself. God is God alone, but He is also tri-personal and those Persons care for other persons, you and me, and the neighbor down the street. The tri-personal God gets personhood. He created us as persons. And he values us as individuals, completely and utterly and in a way that no other human being, even our father or mother, can.

The tri-personal Holy Trinity reaches out from being absorbed in Love to defend and support and encourage our Personal gifts and abilities, interests, concerns and cares.

The Christ Child is not only there as God’s own gift to Himself, a human-divine baby. He is our baby. We see this happen, to some extent, every time we see another baby in the grocery store. Another little human in some sense belongs to us as humanity. We see in that little human something immediately to be cherished and defended. Only the mentally ill and demonically possessed can see anything else. Even our pet, cat or dog, or whatever, acknowledges that the baby lying on the carpet near the fireplace is its own, to be cherished and loved, unless there is something broken in that pet.

The Christ Child is not only there as God’s own gift to Himself, a human-divine baby. He is our own personal baby, whether we have had 10 children or none, that baby is our own, a gift to each and every one of us individually. Jesus is the perfect manifestation in this physical world of God’s outworking of interpenetrating love into a created and physical order, the true image of the Father, a Father’s only Son, allowed to be, in a sense, our son as well, whether he have had 12 sons, like Jacob, or no sons.

This is what it is to be to be a-rejoicing “in the Lord” to have joy of each other “in the Lord.” There is no other surefire way to keep “in the Lord” than to see God’s interpenetrating love in our lives as well – or should I say “outerpenetrating”. He has outsourced his Love, not to China, or India, or Pakistan. He has outsourced his Love, into the world that He created, first He outsourced His love in Creating it, second He outsourced His love in re-creating it, starting with the Christ Child.

Standing in that re-creation is the only surefire way to stay “in the Lord” at all times and in all places. We can remember that presence of the Lord in not worrying, in giving Thanks for all things, in praying without ceasing. Then our rejoicing has eternity to back it up, it is in agreement and covenant with heaven, rather than with Hell. Then our Joy is not Joy in someone else fulfilling our inner child, but in our being fulfilled in them, in being re-created in them (the real meaning of our word “recreation”. On Christmas we shall hear, “Peace on earth, goodwill towards men” – goodwill is having joy in others in the Lord. We can remember that goodwill for others in the Lord through not worrying, through giving Thanks for all things, through praying without ceasing. Today we hear St. Paul say, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Let us stand in that peace today and all days of our mortal lives.

Let us end with hearing Jeremiah again as he prophesies the coming of the Christ Child:

“O the Hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night? Why shouldest thou be as a man astonied, as a mighty man that cannot save? Yet Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy Name; leave us not.” In the Name of the Father…



This Sunday is sometimes difficult for Americans because we are not used to the idea of a king: we’re a republic that prides itself on individualism and independence from such lofty ideas.

Father Douglas Pankhurst seems to hit the nail on the head in this matter of modern secular thinking, saying:

“Kings today are an unfamiliar breed. The few that are left have almost no political power. But, in ancient times, kings were sacred and absolute. They were crowned at their coronation with a special consecration and anointing. And the ancient king set the tone and spirit of his realm. A good king made for a prosperous and orderly kingdom.”

As some might quip; Oh, for the day.

I might also note that in England, this day is known as “Stir-up Sunday”. It is the day when families make their traditional Christmas puddings in advance, so they can age properly and acquire the perfect yuletide flavor.

Somewhat appropriate as we gather to stir the baptismal

font and christen a child into the hope we all bear as expectant sojourners to the humble manger at Bethlehem.

So, let’s look at Christ as a king, and perhaps look deeper and think about this in a different way. 

In the gospel Jesus states that his kingdom is not of this world. This is important because too often people get caught up worrying about this world and lose sight of both our goal as Christians, and the kingdom of Christ. 

St Paul in his epistle states that Jesus is the image of the invisible Godhead… but he doesn’t look any different from a man? Where is this image of the god-head?

Jesus as a human who walked the earth was both god and man. Thus, all who gazed upon him saw that he was a man just as they. But inwardly he possessed a divine nature, he was equal to God while looking like a man. 

This is an important point because Jesus came to earth to save each man and woman. We know that already, but the question I want to ask you this morning is do you know how?

First is by an invitation to a feast: Heaven. This invitation is extended to all who are born, but to be able to enter the feast; you need a wedding garment. This Jesus gives to us in baptism. 

In the ancient Christian world when someone was baptized he or she wore a white robe for 7 days as a sign of their new cleansing. 

But there are two more ways that Christ saved us. 

He saved us by giving man the power, on earth, to continue the works he did while he was with us; it’s called the priesthood. 

Lastly he did it by giving us the commandment to preach the gospel to “every living creature”. Obviously some are going to be more receptive than others. But we are commanded to preach the kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. 

This command to preach the kingdom is a command to spread a kingdom, to extend the area of influence of Jesus to all kingdoms of the world. 

And here is where the difference is. Jesus is not a jealous king. If a nation has a government which is not royal they can still have Jesus as their king. 

You see, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world… Does this mean it should not touch this world? Of course not. It means that as long as Jesus’ message, his gospel is obeyed in a nation it is under the kingship of Jesus, whether they have a monarch or not. 

You see Jesus is king not like other kings. 

When you look at most depictions of Jesus he is on the cross. The only crown you see is the crown of thorns… not a glorious image.

There are two other images of Jesus which you might see. The first is Jesus in the arms of his mother. Sometimes, in fact, often, you will  see him in his mother’s arms with a scepter and perhaps even a crown. You see, he was born a king. 

The other image you will sometimes see is Jesus on the cross, but dressed as a priest with a crown on his head.

For some of us, this image seems a bit strange because we are used to an image of suffering, a bloody calvary as opposed to a pristine, triumphant one. In a way, it combines the images of the Christ as a shining and inviolet infant in the creche with that of the frightening yet ultimately hopeful “corpus” which hangs solemnly between the two thieves. 

However, this is much closer to what a crucifix should look like, you see, Jesus as king did what no other king has, he laid down his life that his subjects ~ us, that we might become kings like him. 

By his death he united himself to us and we are united to him by baptism. So a baby, who is to be baptized, like the one this morning is in fact crowned with a royal crown, and clothed with a white garment. This is because he has become the heir to his lord and master Jesus. 

Not as St. Paul says that the heir, while he is a child, differs in no way from a servant until the time appointed by his father. So we have his godparents pronouncing the promises for him, and his parents are there as witnesses. 

This little heir of heaven is about to begin his journey to his inheritance, which he will fully receive at his death. 

So we see Jesus, the king, who both represents for us the triumphant king, who for the time being is content to be humble, a servant who is more concerned with his subjects than his own personal glory. 

Also he represents the suffering king who understands our predicament and presents us with a savior who is there to help us in our troubles and difficulties. 

The feast of Christ the King is a recent feast, instituted by a Pope, Pius the XI in the 1930s in response to the political situation of the times. 

For us, we need to remember 2 things. 

1~ Jesus is our king if we keep his commandments.

2~ Our relationship with him is founded upon a relationship unique in our times. Our lord and leader wants to empower us to be more like him, and he laid down his life to make us partakers of this divine life.

This life is accessed by 2 main access points: 

baptism and the Eucharist.

Let us keep these firmly in mind as we welcome a new member into our church.


Trinity 19, 2022 – Fr. Peter Geromel

“Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.”

Today, I wanted to talk about the Article of our Faith in the Creed: “I believe in – The Forgiveness of Sins” about which our lessons speak to us so clearly today. I ran across a sermon on these lessons, and I liked the introduction so very well, I decided to nab it! I nabbed other parts too, but it was great stuff. This introduction is from Fr. Dr. Martin Luther.

“My friends in Christ, as we hear and enjoy this Gospel every year, I hope you also understand it, and know what it teaches us, and may God grant that the right life may also follow this knowledge. For the greater part of the Gospel we hear only with the ear, and we know it, but do not live according to it, whereas it should be so taught that few words and nothing but life would be the result.”

He goes on a bit to connect the idea of forgiveness and comfort with our Gospel today – “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee” – which is really very apparent when we receive absolution in our Holy Mass before receiving communion. There we receive forgiveness, and we also receive comfortable words. That fact is, I dare say, this is done precisely in exact imitation of Luther’s insight into the Gospel lesson and his insights into absolution being both forgiveness and comfort. It is a Lutheran aspect which makes it into our Prayer Book liturgy. We have it clearly spoken to us in the absolutions at Morning and Evening Prayer as well.

ALMIGHTY God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live, hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins. He pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel.
    Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“And his Holy Spirit” is the Comfortable or Comforting part in that form of absolution.

At Evening Prayer, a special absolution is an option in addition to the one at Morning Prayer. What I said before a moment ago about the comforting part being the Holy Spirit is made more apparent here.

THE Almighty and Merciful God grant you Absolution and Remission of all your sins, true repentance, amendment of life, and the grace and consolation of the Holy SpiritAmen.

In other versions of basically this same short absolution there is the phrase – “time for amendment of life” – God grant you “time for amendment of life”. Isn’t this comforting news? That instead of snatching us from life, as is His right and privilege at any moment, instead, His merciful kindness has brought us to a liturgical moment where we are snatched, yet again, from the jaws of spiritual death before physical death. And once again, in that liturgical time and space, He has offered us comfort by the Holy Spirit, and time for amendment of life – through the ministry of His Holy Church. The Oxford father, Austin Farrer, puts it this way in commenting on our lessons today:

“Jesus is by his own death the forgiveness of sins; he is the resurrection and the life through his own resurrection. We are thrown into the life-giving sepulchre of Christ, we touch the slain and risen Christ, his body and his blood; our sins are forgiven us, and we live by him; we arise to walk in those good works that he has prepared for us to walk in.”  (The Crown of the Year, Trin. XIX) – Remember those words as I proceed through this discourse.

We receive Forgiveness from Christ’s hands just as much as the sick man of the palsy received it from Christ’s hands in the Gospel lesson today. Hear Nowell’s catechism.

What meanest thou by this word, Forgiveness?

“That the faithful do obtain at God’s hand pardon of their offences. For God for Christ’s sake, who hath satisfied our sin, freely forgiveth all that believe in him their sins: and delivereth them from judgement, damnation, and the pain due for the same.”

And more! Nowell tells us:

“Lest the greatness of our sorrow should bring us unto desperation, our minds are comforted by Faith, which doth put us in good and certain hope of obtaining pardon of our sins at God’s hand, through Christ our Saviour. And this is that we profess, that we believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Comfort – good cheer – is offered us in the forgiveness of sins!

Luther again:

“Forgiveness of sins is nothing more than two words, in which the whole Kingdom of Christ consists. There must be sins, and if we are conscious of them, we must confess them; when I have confessed them, forgiveness and grace are immediately present.”

Luther says this:

“. . . it follows that the kingdom of Christ is realized where nothing but comfort and the forgiveness of sins reign not only in words to proclaim it, which is also necessary; but also in deed, as we shall see in this example. For he did not only speak these words into the ear of this sick man; but he also forgave his sins and comforted him. This knowledge is proper for us Christians to know.”

Here he provides us, I think, a really orthodox viewpoint. That where the Sacramental life is real and present, there is the Kingdom of God reigning, externally in the Liturgical actions of His Holy Church, but also, we hope, by passing through the ear, and through the eye, and taken by us upon our lips, we hope, that the Kingdom of God also reigns internally, in the heart, mind, soul and strength of each and every Christian in the pews this morning.

So – there you go, I hope that you understand a little bit better, have a little bit more knowledge, about the article of Faith that we take upon our lips at practically every service – “I believe in – The Forgiveness of Sins”. Yet, this article of our faith as written in our Apostles’ Creed was not enough and was misunderstood at some point. And so our Nicene Creed updated the article of faith to read: “I believe in – and I acknowledge one baptism for the Remission of Sins”. Here there can be no doubt that if you only ever said the Nicene Creed, as the Eastern Churches do, that you still acknowledge “The Forgiveness of Sins”.he essential article of faith is clearly part of the statement “I acknowledge one baptism for the Remission of Sins” since “Remission of Sins” and “Forgiveness of Sins” are equivalent statements. Yet the Nicene Creed points us to the Sacrament of Baptism.

Why this update? St. Philaret’s Catechism gives us the answer. “Because Baptism was the subject of a question, whether some people, as heretics, ought not to be rebaptized; and this required a decision, which so came to be put into the Creed.” Here is a mystery indeed that is important for us to remember! If I am baptized, even when a heretic, even when an infant, when I come to ask through faith and repentance to forgiveness as a heretic or as an adult, that baptism does not need to be redone, but becomes effective in connection with the Repentance that is really in my heart. You don’t get deals, contracts, like that every day! That is, if it is a valid baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity.

So, when we say we believe in the “Forgiveness of Sins”, it means that Christ is ready to forgive even when we are not ready to ask to be forgiven. And what he has ratified by His Blood and by His Water, and by His Holy Baptism is like a contract ready to be ratified on your end (still by His Grace, always by His Grace), when Faith and Repentance becomes present. You must receive His Holy Baptism only Once – and then it is acknowledged and received by the whole Church, at least the whole Church who sincerely believes every article of the Christian Faith as contained in the Creeds.

Baptism is like Jesus saying, “Thou art my Beloved Son, today I have begotten thee.” That adoption by Grace is not dependent upon our repentance, but only becomes fully received upon repentance. If you were baptized as a baby, you were “elected” to receive it – but we must make our election and our calling sure, through repentance, not through rebaptism. This is one of the predominant mistakes of our fellow Christians, and it was put into our Creed because it was a mistaken understanding by Christians in the past as well.

There is a further part to making our calling and election sure – it is a natural part of being truly penitent for our sins. It is that we bring forth fruit worthy of repentance. This is what John the Baptist told those who came to him for baptism – bring forth fruit worthy or repentance. Here is where the Holy Spirit is active and we pray for the comfort of the Holy Spirit to heal what needs healing in our souls and to spur us on to fruits of the spirit worthy of repentance. This does not mean that we are save through our works, but that any sincere repentance will be followed up by “amendment of life” that is fruit worthy of repentance.

Luther again:

“the Kingdom of Christ consists in this and thereby grows, namely, that the conscience be comforted with the Word. . . . For I need no works before God, and must only be careful rightly to confess my sins. Then I have forgiveness of sins and am one with God, all which the Holy Spirit works in me. Then I break forth with blessings toward my neighbor, as they did here who brought the man sick with the palsy to the Lord.

“. . . God does not desire the Christian to live for himself. Yea, cursed is the life that lives for self. For all that one lives after he is a Christian, he lives for others.”

So we come to our Epistle today. Here we read joyfully, not of a list of rules, but of a list of opportunities for those who are truly Christian, for those who have forgiveness, having “put off concerning the former conversation the old man . . .” and been “renewed in the spirit of your mind” that is metanoia, repentance “and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” These opportunities for living to others is not what put away our sins. God puts away our sins, and then we allow Him to work good works through us by His Holy Spirit. “putting away lying” that is the sin we have the opportunity to “speak every man truth with his neighbour”. Putting away anger, which is sin, we have the opportunity to renew our relationships with others before the end of the day. Putting away stealing, we have the opportunity to labour honestly, and give those who are needy. Putting away gossiping, which is sin, we have the opportunity to edify one another with good communication and minister grace unto the hearers. Putting away “bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking . . . with all malice” we have the opportunity – sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption – to be “kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Now as we go forward, sacramentally, to touch his sacred body and precious blood, let us pray.

Dearest Jesus! Give us thy Holy Spirit, who daily and continually worketh in us true Christian repentance and preserveth us firm therein, so that we may always be found penitent Christians in true acknowledgment of sorrow and grief on account of our sins, in a strong faith in the forgiveness of sins, and in a firm resolution, and beginning to better our life, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.[1]

[1] Habermann’s Prayers, 79-80.


Trinity 18, 2022 – Fr. Peter Geromel

We begin our investigations of the texts for this week with the collect, which distinguishes three things: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. We can relate these three with three things that immediately confront us at the beginning of the Holy Mass.

From the Collect for Purity – Unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.

From the Summary of the Law which looms large in our Gospel lesson today – Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, soul and strength.

We shall love Him with the whole heart, which is open and naked to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do.

We shall love Him with your whole soul and strength, whose desires are known to Him with Whom we have to do.

We shall love Him with the whole mind, from whose Divine Mind no secrets are hid.

And yet, the World seeks to draw our hearts away, because where our treasure is, there will be our hearts also.

And yet, the Flesh seeks to draw our strength and soul away, because where the strength of the body goes, the soul naturally follows. Where the soul goes, it will eventually entice the strength to follow. We are both flesh and spirit, strength and soul.

Finally, the Devil draws our minds away, penetrating our minds with what is called by the spiritual masters the logismoi – the words of the mind, the penetrating and crippling and tempting arrows that draw us from the love God.

But beyond that little reflection that I hope you find insightful and edifying in your spiritual lives, I’d like to go a step further and talk about the importance of two different ways both alluded to in our Epistle and Gospel lessons today, two different ways of relating to knowing God. There is the Way of Knowing and the Way of Unknowing. I use the term “unknowing” not as if you’ve reversed the process of Knowing Him. That would be bad indeed. But rather it is a term that comes from the medieval work of spiritual theology, “The Cloud of Unknowing”.

There is a bright sun light of knowing in our spiritual lives. And there is a cloud of unknowing, where God, in His Providence, remains hidden to us. The hiddenness is as special and as important as the knowing.

Fr. Seraphim of St. Simeon’s Skete in Kentucky: “Jesus teaches the humility of love, not the love of show and pomp.

“In a certain sense, the problem of Christianity today is not that something is hidden, but not enough has stayed hidden!

“We were given mystery and we tried to measure it and parade about with our findings and how right and accurate we are. It’s not about being correct, it’s about being corrected.”

There are things in this world that we are to respect: Electrical Systems, Furnaces, Engines; things that we live around all the time but remain hidden except for when we need to mess with them. They come with instruction manuals for a reason. God is a said to be a consuming fire. He is around us all the time. But there is a hiddenness that remains.

On the other hand, He knows us completely. “Unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” We will always and forever know Him incompletely. That is how it must be and that is how it should be. St. Ephrem the Syrian speaks to us of this:

“Though your nature is one, its expressions are many; they find three levels, high, middle, and lowly.

Make me worthy of the lowest part,

Of picking up crumbs from the table of your wisdom.

Your highest expression is hidden with your Father,

Your middle riches are the wonder of the Watchers.”[1]

One of the really possible mistakes of the Watchers, the Angels, who fell into perdition, the Devil chief among them, was that they sought the hiddenness of God, they did not stay within their bounds as Watchers of the “middle riches”. St. Ephrem reflects on this folly as he watches theologians in his own day seek out things too high for themselves.

“The thong of Your sandal was something fearful to the discerning; The hem of your cloak is awesome to those who understand,

Yet our foolish generation through its prying into you,

Has gone quite mad, drunk with new wine.”[2]

A sort of madness seized, I think, our spiritual adversary when he could not “uncover his father’s nakedness” as the Old Testament says you should not. And, beloved, the same rage consumes him as he looks on us, who are in the Image of the Divine One. We too have a hiddenness that he cannot penetrate. That’s good news! He goes about like a raging and roaring lions seeking to devour the Image of God in Man.

This occurs in our Gospel lesson today when the Pharisees try to understand God. There is something of Jesus’ relationship with the Father that is mysterious and splendid, and perfect, and enraging. When you have an analogous relationship with the Father through His Son, it isn’t perfect but it is mysterious and splendid, and enrages demons and men who cannot stand not understanding, and also do not know their place, who want to know everything and do not want to leave anything that is exceptionally God’s to God Himself.

Jacob of Serug states:

“You who would plan to scrutinize Christ’s plan of salvation, end your search, and do not allow yourself to go astray in seeking the one who cannot be found.”[3]

No, concerning the Way of Knowing. From our epistle: “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift . . .” Here I want to read and absolutely fabulous excerpt not from these fathers of Syriac tradition but from John Williamson Nevin, the insightful 19th century German Reformed theologian of Mercersburg Seminary in Pennsylvania.

“The simplest idea we can form of holiness, as it concerns ourselves, is derived from the character and life of Jesus Christ. One great object of his appearing in our nature was, that the mind of God might be brought within our reach, and rendered intelligible to us, by clothing itself with the conditions and attributes of humanity. To be holy is to be in harmony with the mind of God; and the character of Christ accordingly stands before us as the fullest possible revelation we can have of what we should aim at in our endeavors to attain to this blessed distinction. . . . It is only when he is in our eyes, that we can see clearly and impressively what we need to be; and it is only when he is before us also, that we are brought earnestly to strive after the glorious idea of a divine life, so as to realize the power of it in any degree by growing in grace.”[4]

This we have in the Gospel. We are given in our Gospel today both Way of Knowing and the limits of Knowing. Jesus reveals Himself using Scripture, the Old Testament itself, to reveal Himself and then, beloved, shuts them off from further knowing and holds up before them a mystery? “If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”

Finally, I want us to be pointed to perhaps the most quickening and fullest reality of those of us who are, rightly, on what St. Ephrem calls the lowly way of knowing God. We are not Angels. We are not Watchers. We are men. We are given access according to our nature. What is that we know best on earth, besides God’s Word concerning Himself? We know Him through the Eucharist.

God is a consuming fire. Fire has a tendency to get out of hand and to consume us. That is why we have fire alarms, fire departments, fire extinguishers. But on the Altar, we have in the Holy Eucharist Divine Fire kindled, so that we can partake of God without being consumed – as long as we receive with faith and repentance. There are instructions, just like the instructions on a furnace, or hot water heater, or electrical panel, or fire extinguisher, in the teachings of the bible and the tradition of the Church as to how to eat divine fire without being consumed. But it is perhaps the fullest way, along with the God’s Word written, that we can “Know Him” by taking the crumbs from the table of his wisdom, in that lowly way.

Jacob of Serug again:

“And he made the Secret descend; he arranged by it

That his account should come to the world.

And in the midst of the world,

He established the altar for bodily creatures,

And he became a body from whom they should eat,

Their dwelling place.”[5]

Let us pray a prayer from Syriac tradition. Let us pray.

“O Lord God, be a perpetual morning for us, a light which does not fade and a day that does not end. Then we shall be illumined by the light of your holy commandments in our feelings, thoughts, and desires. Our Lord and our God, glory to Thee forever. Amen.”[6]

[1] Seely Joseph Beggiani, Early Syriac Theology: With Special Reference to the Maronite Tradition (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2014), 7

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Ibid., 6.

[4] John Williamson Nevin, The Reformed Pastor: Lectures on Pastoral Theology (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2006), 16-17.

[5] Beggiani, Syriac Theology, 7-8.

[6] Ibid., 11.

Trinity 13 – Queen Elizabeth’s Passing/9-11 – Fr. Geromel

“To Abraham and his seed were the promises made.”

Dearly Beloved, we are brought to this weekend filled with many thoughts. Each of us were our personal ones and then there are the more universal or global feelings. We have the memory of Queen Elizabeth II before us. We have 9-11 before us. I would like to look at our Collect, Epistle and Gospel in light of these events – keeping before us the theme of “Promise,” the Promise that we have from our Sovereign Lord God, the Great I AM, ratified and sealed through the blood of his Dear Son. Let us pray.

Whatever happens in this life, in our generation, will always pale in comparison with those great days when our Saviour walked personally upon the not-always-green pastures of Israel. Only in those very last days, when he comes again in glory, only then shall the former glory of Jesus’ time on earth, pale in comparison. Whether or not He also walked upon the green pastures of England with Joseph of Arimathea is a question that we can then ask Him personally. But presently we must trust his words to his contemporaries, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them.” He is talking of the Prophets and of Righteous Kings such as David and Solomon. They looked forward to His day, they saw it, from the place of departed spirits, saw His wondrous Incarnation, His Ministry, His Baptism, His Temptation, His Scourging and Crucifixion, but only from the place of departed spirits. We know this because Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, saw it, and was glad – so Abraham, and all the saints of Old Israel see even from the place of departed spirits.

For those coming after, even kings and queens, they all would have been blessed to see the historic Jesus in his “real time” ministry. The News world has made much of what Queen Elizabeth saw, and was either glad or sad to see, so much history, but she is told by her Saviour that she would have rejoiced even more, her eyes would have been Blessed even more if she’d been there with him; everything pales in comparison with those moments on the Judean Hills so far, far away and so long, long ago. But, beloved, I want a takeaway. We all want a takeaway, anytime there is a world event – or personal event – that impacts us deeply. We all want some meaning. And the preacher is not above the task of providing meaning, a takeaway, in light of current events. 

On a certain level, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor (that is her Baptismal Name) is just another Christian lady (on a certain level royalty are just fellow human beings) and the prayer that we said for ourselves today applies just as well to her as to us, “of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service; Grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises.” Drilling down deeper into that collect, as St. John Henry Newman has phrased it so very well, “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.”

These are good words for all of us, a good elucidation of our collect for today. But what, again, might we take from the life of Queen Elizabeth and her role? Many things we shall all consider and turn in our minds, and apply, hopefully, towards the betterment of our own lives – that is what it is to have saints, good examples. Yet the one thing that I want to point us towards is the idea of Promise and Seed, the Seed which Paul tells us today is our Saviour Christ. Royalty is made by seed after all, but so is each and every one of us. Each one of our personalities, our DNA, comes from a particular seed in proximity to a particular egg. Each one of those particular things makes us fitted for a definite task, as Newman prayed he might be able to do – His duty, even if his definite duty was never known to him in this life. What Newman is saying and what Paul is saying, if we put them together, is that if we are in Christ, in that Seed, in that Promise, then, when we hopefully do our duty in this life, we are part of a certain kind of royalty, the Priestly People, the Royal and Peculiar People, who are Abraham’s Seed.

Sadly and wrongly, there are many (not as many as there once were, thank God) who feel as if Queen Elizabeth’s legacy is that she is of the bloodline of Christ, or at the very least some odd continuation of the Israelite Kings through the Lost Tribes of Israel. That she is of that seed and of that promise by blood. Thankfully, as the Gospel we shall hear at the end of mass puts it, and puts it to us every week, our royal priesthood, our blue blood, as Christians is not by being of the lost tribes of Israel rediscovered through esoteric research and genealogy in Scandinavia or England (so called “British Israelitism”) but is really and truly, “not by blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” by His Sovereign loving kindness, by His Grace, that we are really and truly of the Abrahamic Seed.

That was an aside and if you’ve never heard of “British Israelitism” you are blessed to have never heard of it and you can go google it if your curiosity is piqued. The legacy that I want to place before you is that Queen Elizabeth held before us the virtue of “Keeping her Promises” in an age when that was and has been lacking. She was, in the first place, Queen only because someone else did not keep his promises because he wanted to marry someone who couldn’t keep her promises. I am, of course, referring to Edward VIII and his abdication so that he could marry the divorcee Mrs. Simpson. An act which through Elizabeth into the line of succession.

But since then, divorce has rocked the Royal Family, time and again, and she has stood as a rock against it while supporting what could be supported, what could be seen as good. Yes, I think for all the rock of ages that she was in the midst of brinks of nuclear wars and sexual revolutions and even, most recently, Covid, what must stand out to us is the idea that we should keep our word, that we should perform our vows, especially when those vows have been taken in the Church and before the Holy Altar. This, we can say, from the Knighthood of old to the Monasteries of old has been the bedrock of Chivalry and Christendom – keeping vows, keeping the marriage bed a bedrock of civilization.

But her age saw marriage partners leaving each other, even monks and priests and nuns in the wake of Vatican II leaving their parishes and orders in order to become married – and oftentimes later divorced themselves, Christendom shuddering, castle walls quivering, homes and families coming crashing down.

We might say, Hey, you divorcees, there are rules, there are laws! We might say, let us shun you lawbreakers and civilization destroyers! And she wielded the sword of the Law not in vain, to the punishment of evil doing. And yet, Grace does not come by the Law. St. Paul tells us, “if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” In other words, anyone in a faithful marriage is not righteous because they have kept the marriage bed undefiled, and have kept the law. No! They are sinners too! They are not holy by keeping the Law, but only by Grace.

Could she have cut off with the sword all who transgressed the law and transgressed promises made before the holy altar? I suppose. Yet grace is despite the law, not by the law. So while she kept her promises, mercy was offered to those who had not kept promises – not an easy thing to do. Because it is by grace that we are saved, not of ourselves. And if someone is to reach heaven, and they are divorced, they must reach heaven not by law but by grace. That is a lesson of these post-war years to be sure! If it were only by law, then would many injured and beaten up “certain” people on the road down to Jericho be left for dead. That too, has been very a difficult tension, between liberal and conservative policies, that we have had to wrestle with. How shall we help those less fortunate than ourselves who, through definite fault of their own, have fallen on hard times? Definite fault is different from through no fault of one’s own. How shall we apply Grace knowing that it is by Grace that we ourselves and they will someday be saved?

Again, she kept her promises, as an example to us. She said that she would serve her people, whether her life were long or short she’d serve the people entrusted to her care. How do you do that? How do you live life so unselfishly, so Good Samaritan like? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” How many times did she hear those words at Divine Service in her lifetime – so simple, so basic, so Christian, so penetrating and without theological complexity (at least on the surface). That is how, I should think. Simple, basic, penetrating, Christianity.

Yet she, as a Sovereign Lady, was still a sinner. She still failed in her promises. “We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.” Thankfully, we have a Sovereign God, and King Jesus, who never fails in His Promises.

You know, a lot can happen between when you leave the altar and when you come back to it. Many a couple come to the holy altar to make promises and never come back to the altar again, or come back to it broken by the law of those promises. Maybe they learn of Grace, maybe they learn of bitterness. Such is divorce. But God is faithful through it all, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

On 9-11, I got up and – if I remember correctly – trotted off to Morning Prayer with the Chaplain in the Chapel of Hillsdale College and had breakfast and then trotted back to my dorm for my mid-morning nap before my first class. When I woke up, I was told that a plane had hit a building and my first thought was WW3 had started. By the time I returned to the altar again that evening, the world had changed forever. On Thursday, we remembered Queen Elizabeth at the altar at Noon and went to lunch, checking our phones often to see if she was still alive. By four o’clock, when I returned for Evensong, the world was in mourning. That is how the world works, my friends.

But that altar, where so many vows have been made and which any sledgehammer or axe can bust up, represents an altar eternal in the heavens, where all the Promises that we make at it are spiritually received. And we have a great High Priest interceding at that altar above without hindrance or let, without rest, or retreat, Who stands in the gap, providing Grace to help us keep our promises. It is always there. He is always there. And as long and for however long, that we stand down here, and stand under the laws, moral, civil or scientific, of this mortal life, we are in need of Grace. Law there must be or we will never learn that we need a Savior and learn that we need to be holy; Grace we must have in order to be holy.


Trinity 12 – 2022 – Fr. Geromel

What is it to have your ears open to hearing the Words of the Gospel? What are the barriers that keep people from hearing the Words of the Gospel? It is a great couple of questions that, hopefully, will be addressed in this sermon. Let us pray.

O Heavenly Father, forasmuch as none can come to receive Thy Holy Word, except Thou draw them by Thy gracious inspiration, we beseech Thee to pour out Thy Holy Spirit upon those who worship to-day in Thy holy house of prayer, that their hearts may be inclined favourably to receive, steadfastly retain, and obediently to perform, whatsoever shall be taught them in Thy Name; and that they may manifest, in the dedication to Thee of their lives and substance, that thankfulness which they owe to Thee for Thy redeeming love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (R.M. Benson, Chain of Prayer Across the Ages, 92)

Do you all know the origins of Chiropractic care? In 1895, Daniel David Palmer, a healer with magnets, was conversing with a janitor in the hallway who claimed he had lost his hearing 17 years earlier. D.D. Palmer noticed a vertebrae misaligned and manipulated the spine – the hearing returned. Later a rib was adjusted reducing a heart discomfort and then a Presbyterian minister’s daughter came home walking with her crutches and the minister, Rev. Samuel Weeks, coined the term “chiropractic” for Palmer – from the word hand, “chiro” and “practice”. Interestingly, “chiro” may mean “hand” in Greek, but it also is formed from the first two letters for Christ, “Chi” and “Ro”. Indeed, there was a lot of religious stuff caught up in this school out in Davenport, Iowa, in the early days. But it took a long time, most of this last century, for Chiropractic care to be considered anything more than “quackery”.

That some kind of religious sentiment might be attached to something that seems to heal so much stuff that Christ himself healed is hardly surprising. A man deaf is healed by Christ in today’s Gospel lesson. A lady bent over, apparently with a spine difficulty, is healed by Christ.

What we call the “psychosomatic” connection between the metaphysical difficulties of people’s lives and the physical conditions of people’s lives is a hard, hard one to disentangle – although there is no end of trying. We have, in fact, discipline after discipline, and agency after agency, and program after program, to address this tangled mess.

Others, like Jay Adams and the Biblical Counseling movement, attempt to cut through much of this discipline and agency and program “red tape” and call it all sin – acknowledging that one should still take one’s meds and seek other help – but it is all basically sin, to be called out and exhorted and destroyed by biblical truth.

In this way, we might point to it a bit like chiropractic care. If one spine is not in line, then it causes all sorts of other problems in one’s life. If one is not morally upright, but morally bent over, it causes all sorts of other problems in life – in fact, like a janitor in Davenport, Iowa, in 1895, it might cause one to be deaf, to not even hear the Gospel truth that is being spoken.

It then becomes a bit of a chicken or egg scenario. Do we ask people to be moral first, and hear the Gospel truth second? There is something quite a bit Calvinist and Victorian about “Doctor” Palmer’s methodology – to manipulate the spine, align it, and then allow everything else to heal. Everything else is just symptomatic. Yes, this seems to be something of the Biblical Counseling, Calvinist, perspective, everything needs to line up with biblical truth in one’s life or one is simply treating symptoms. In fact, do you realize that, historically, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church provides zero hospitals or other medical aid in their mission work in third world countries? No, they only Preach the Gospel. The hunger issue, the medical issue, these are all just symptomatic of ills that aren’t cured by biblical truth. They are secondary issues, secondary issues that can be alleviated by biblical truth. Folks who have the gospel do tend to be a bit healthier and to eat a bit more regularly. There is some truth in this.

On the other hand we have the Faith Healers. These, like D.D. Palmer often was, are often considered a bunch of quacks and con-artists. They heal first, asking for a very little amount of faith before beginning to “practice” with the “hand” – by laying on of hands – with those who are sick. They do not, necessarily, ask for the person’s “truth” or lifestyle to align completely with the biblical reality before they offer, like a sort of free grace, the healing that our Lord so often offered. Indeed, there is biblical evidence for this. It is, in a sense, the biblical counseling of Jesus – here is some healing, go and sin no more!

But enough of Calvinists and Pentecostals and Chiropractors! What does the Catholic Faith teach? It teaches a whole lot, and far more than I can cover in one sermon! What is the Catholic teaching about the “chicken or egg” problem that I have raised today? Should we heal first with doctrine, biblical truth, and then treat all else as secondary, as symptomatic? Should we heal first with faith healing, and then allow the person to grasp the fact that God is real, God can heal, God can change your life for good, and then teach doctrine and biblical truth? It’s a great question! The Catholic answer is, “Yes!” Either way, God is glorified. I think the answer is that sometimes we do one and sometimes we do the other, because sometimes Jesus healed first and asked lifestyle questions later, sometimes he asked penetrating questions first and realigned people to biblical truth first and healed second.

The Catholic Faith is always reasonable, biblical sound, and within the Tradition of the Church. Therefore, the Catholic Faith teaches us how to deal with the psychosomatic complexities of life reasonably, biblically, and traditionally. It is really that simple, at least in the first place. Applying that philosophy gets complicated again right away. But let’s drill down into this a moment.

There is something to be said for treating symptoms first and working on the more internal problems second. There is something to be said for going right to the source of the problem first. Should one take antidepressants or pray against depression? One should pray, then perhaps, if it seems reasonable, take a happy pill. Should one exercise more or just pray that God would heal you of obesity? The answer is pretty obvious – pray while you exercise. Should one put systems in place to avoid occasions of temptation, or just pray the temptation away? Occasions of temptation should be avoided, within reason. Going a hundred miles out of your way to avoid an occasion of temptation is not reasonable, however, and will probably lead to a different kind of temptation.

We are fallible human beings. We can’t see everything like Jesus. He had superman, X-Ray vision, that could penetrate into the Body, Mind and Soul/Heart of a person and see the whole picture. We cannot do that. We must pray, and prod, prod and pray, pray and pray and pray when we attempt to heal others, always working on healing ourselves first, taking the mote out of our eye first, remembering the adage that Jesus reminded us of, “Physician, Heal thyself.”

We can’t make it all about the Devil and we can’t look at a situation and say the Devil has nothing to do with it. Jesus does the same. In the case of the woman bent over, Jesus says, “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” In that case, the Devil seemed to be involved. In another case, the case of a man born blind, Jesus is asked who sinned, this man or his parents – i.e. he was asked if it was caused by the Devil influencing the free will of the blind man or his parents. In that case, he says, “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” So, it isn’t cut and dry.

Like any medical doctor, the pastor, at the end of the day, has more questions than he has had answered during even the best days of healing. It is a frustrating job “soul care”. It constantly eludes the Christian and makes him humbler than he was before. The Pastor and the Christian must remember the words of St. Paul to us today, “Such trust have we through Christ to Godward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”

Hear now the words, in closing, of the Bishop (essentially the same after all these years) when he consecrates the oil for the anointing of the sick and think to yourself what a gracious God we have, Who, through Holy Mother Church, provides care and concern for Body, Mind and Soul, which is offered to us through the laying on of hands and the anointing with oil.

“Send down, we beseech thee O Lord, the Holy Spirit the Paraclete from heaven upon this richness of oil, which thou hast provided from the green wood for the refreshment both of mind and body. And may thy holy blessing rest upon all who anoint, who taste, or touch, to be a safeguard of body, soul, and spirit, to take away all griefs, all illness, all sickness of mind and body: thy perfect chrism remaining in our bowels, wherewith thou hast anointed priests, kings, prophets, and martyrs; which thou O Lord hast blessed in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through whom O Lord thou dost create all things.” (Gelasian Sacramentary)


Trinity 11, 2022 – St. Augustine – Fr Geromel

Last week we ended our sermon with a definition of Grace from William Porcher Dubose: “It is simply that we are not to bring our goodness to God, but to bring it from Him. He is not our Father because we are His children; but we are His children because He is our Father. He does not love us because we love Him, but we love Him because He first loved us. In our relations with God we are to come to Him with the nothing that we are, and receive from Him the all things that He is.”[1]

That was a great segway into the topic this week which is Grace, something present in our Collect, Epistle and Gospel.

Today we also celebrate St. Augustine who is known as the “Doctor of Grace”. We’ll get to his definition in a minute.

This week I conducted a little survey at a truck Stop asking people for their definition of “Grace.”

One Trucker responded “Treating People the way you want to be treated.” Another Trucker responded, “Good will.” A Waitress responded, “That which I am not worthy of, but that I am given everyday anyway.”

How would you define “Grace”? It is a bit like air that we breath everyday but struggle seeing or understanding. That is why “Theology” is sometimes called “The Divine Science.” You would think there would be a definition somewhere, easily accessible. (Three Books)

One, Nelson’s Introduction to the Christian Faith, in the Glossary, defines Grace: “The Quality in God which gives freely; its root meaning is ‘giving pleasure’. Grace is always given, never earned. It is a relationship word; not a ‘force’.” So, When you say, By God’s Grace, you are not saying something like, “May the Force be with you.”

But like most people, we do not run around talking about the technical definition of air. We know it is Oxygen, or the simply matter in the state of gas. The part we absorb into our bodies is Oxygen. But we do talk a whole lot about how we use air – from exercise to combustible engines. The same is true of the Christian Faith and Grace. We talk more about how it is part of our spiritual lives than its actual definition.

I quote from Augnet, a website dedicated to Augustine, for what one author thinks is Augustine’s definition.

“As seen by Augustine, Grace is the love and favour of God towards human beings. It is a favour that we have not merited, yet is made available to us. It touches the inmost heart and will of a person. It guides the lives of those called to be faithful. It draws and raises the soul to sorrow for offending God, to faith, and to praise of God. Augustine never wearied of celebrating the abundant mercy and grace of God.”

“grace transforms the human will so that it is capable of doing good. It relieves a person’s religious anxiety by forgiveness and the gift of hope. It abolishes the ground of human pride. The grace of God became visible in Jesus Christ, and it now remains in the Holy Spirit in the Church.”

Both St. Paul and St. Augustine had a strong sense of what Grace is. St. Paul says “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the Grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” St, Augustine was a great sinner, a fornicator and a member of a cult, who, like St. Paul, persecuted Christianity intellectually before he was saved. both had been supplied with much grace. They were both zealous for the doctrine of Grace, that it be spoken of correctly, and not taken advantage of or misused.

My first college professor, the professor I had for the first three college classes I took while a freshman in High School later employed me as a tutor at the University of Michigan where he was running the learning center. A Jewish gentleman, he and I had a great conversation one time in which he said to me that he thought the biggest difference between Christianity and Judaism that he could figure out was the idea of Grace. Isn’t that interesting? Not every Jew or Christian would agree with that difference, but it is there.

We pray today, “O God, who declares thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity; Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure.”

That outlines, I think, what that college professor was getting at. There are commandments for Jews and for Christians, given by God first by Moses, then for the Christian, by Jesus. But for the Jew there is not this same Mercy that allows power to perform that which we cannot perform by our own abilities.

Another Saint whom we celebrate in the life of the Church today is St. Moses the Black, or Abba Moses the Robber, the Ethiopian, the Strong. He died in 405 AD.

He was a slave for an Egyptian government official. He was dismissed by his master for theft and suspected murder. He then roamed around the Nile area with a gang of violent robbers. He then, hiding from authorities, took shelter with some monks in the desert of Wadi El Natrun. Under the tutelage of St. Isidore of Sketis, he struggled for many years to fit in as a newly baptized Christian among monks. Some bandits came among him in his cave early on and he fought them off.

On one occasion, an erring monk was to be disciplined by the monastic community. Moses was required to go, but didn’t want to. Summoned, he finally went but carried an old basket with holes in it filled with sand. As he came among the monks, carrying it, the sand was falling out of the leaky basket. He said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not even see them, and I have come to judge my brother.”

Later in life, another band of Bandits came to attack the monastery. He said that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword and refused to flee. He was slain with six other monks.

In today’s Gospel, the sinner stands a great ways off and thumps his chest and says, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Great sinners who become monks like St. Augustine or St. Moses (or St. Paul who spent three years in the desert after he had a vision of Christ on the Damascus road, essentially living like a monk) are like the one in our Gospel lesson today. They stand far away from society, knowing how much they are a scourge and an affliction on society given their own defects. They stand a great way off, like lepers.

Let us pray for God’s “Enabling Grace” today and this week.

Not only lay Thy commands on us, O Lord, but be pleased to enable us for the performance of every duty required of us this day [and week]; and so engage our hearts to Thyself, that we may make it our meat and drink to do Thy will, and with enlarged hearts run the way of Thy commands. Be merciful to us, and bless us, and keep us this day [and week] in all our ways. Let Thy love abound in our hearts, and sweetly and powerfully constrain us to all faithful and cheerful obedience; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Benjamin Jenks, A.D. 1646) – A Chain of Prayer Across the Ages, 131

[1] Glorious Companions, 494.

Trinity 10 – Tribute to William Porched Dubose. – Fr. Geromel

“Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed . . .”

The title of this sermon is “William Porcher Dubose, cancelled by the Episcopal Church but alive to us.” You might ask who Dubose was. Let me read from Glorious Companions: The Anglican Quest for Holiness: “William Dubose (1836-1918), reared in a devout Huguenot plantation family in South Carolina, had a ‘conversion experience’ at the age of eighteen which led to confirmation and aspirations of ministry.” This experience, I might add, was in 1854, on a return trip to The Citadel where he was a cadet. In his own words, “It was a most singular thing. It was just as though a new world had opened to me, a new presence had come into my life and it was so absolute and positive, there was no mistaking it. . . . The rest of that year was spent in consolidating my gains. I was settling, fixing, and arranging myself. I corresponded with Stoney and we agreed to study together for the ministry.” Glorious Companions continues, “Elected chaplain and Professor or Moral Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, Dubose had a wide influence as a teacher and, once the School of Theology was founded, began there his life’s work as a divine and philosopher of the Christian religion. Dubose’s perspectives were deeply influenced by the writings of St. Paul, and his six books on theological topics form an extended commentary on the New Testament generally. All DuBose’s writings combine an evangelical fervour with an Anglo-Catholic modernist perspective.”[1] What does modernist mean? Lesser Feasts and Fasts describes that, “He treated life and doctrine as a dramatic dialogue, fusing the best contemporary thought and criticism with his own strong inner faith.”

Why then was this modern thinker, and I would agree, his perspectives were quite liberal for the late 19th century, get “cancelled” from the calendar of the Episcopal Church at the latest General Convention? He was on the calendar for August 18th. Well, of course, he was a chaplain for the Confederate States Army, being a citizen-soldier trained, since he was a Citadel grad. But he was also a priest, being a University of Virginia graduate student with a Master of Arts, and being a graduate of the newly formed Episcopal diocesan seminary in Camden, SC. What is so extraordinary about a man serving as a chaplain? Is it not laudable, praiseworthy? As one biographer entitled his biography “I Have Looked Death in the Face”. Why? because of “its applicability to [his] wartime experiences – both as a thrice-wounded soldier and as a chaplain who saw death in the faces of numerous soldiers.” Should not a man who serves his country, ministering to those dying on the battlefield, not be an example to us in our Christian lives? Why, then, should such a man be removed from the calendar of the Episcopal Church? I submit to you it is because the Episcopal church in its official decision-making is “carried away unto . . . dumb idols.” Indeed, the Idolatry of not recognizing any person’s accomplishments apart from certain politically correct ideological idols. What says our Epistle today, “no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” In the age of diversity, diversities of gifts that are by the same Spirit must be “cancelled,” must be extinguished, must be strangled out of existence, if they do not serve the gods of our age.

Hear Dubose on the subject at hand. “What a subject of reflection then, and of realization or actualization, is there for us in the fact of our fellowship, our participation, with the Father and the Son in the unity and identity of a common Spirit. It is in this eternal Spirit that God Himself is God and is Love. It was in this eternal Spirit that the whole creation and humanity offered itself without spot to God in the person of Jesus Christ . . .”[2] Is he speaking by the same Holy Spirit, or am I mistaken? Surely, I am not mistaken. Dubose is speaking in the same Spirit, and being a Confederate by virtue of being a South Carolinian, he has diversity, a diversity that should be respected by those who have made diversity their idol. And in his diversity as a Confederate and South Carolinian, being a Christian, he has the same Spirit as we who are Christians in this generation.

Hear Dubose again on Diversity and how it must be unified in Christ and in Christ’s Spirit: “Salvation . . . cannot be fully understood so long as it is regarded merely as an individual concern.” What says our Epistle today? “. . . there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. . . . but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” So Dubose goes on, “No one of us . . . can become his true self . . . unless he surrenders it to Christ, becoming a living organ of His Will, and instrument of the manifestation of His abiding Presence by the execution of His purposes in the world. In so doing he is taken up into the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He becomes a member of His Body, and thereby in finding himself he finds also his fellow-members. He learns that he is no isolated independent unit, but part of a living whole, ‘the Great Church,’ membership in which is the primary fact for all who are alive to their relation to their Head – membership in any subordinate group, whether Anglican or any other, being secondary.”[3] So we might take his words as words to us today, commentary to us today, concerning this Epistle on the 10th Sunday after Trinity, an Epistle he heard year after year during his own lifetime.

What of our Gospel lesson today? A Gospel lesson in which we see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem’s idolatry? Are we not to weep over our own cities who are so consumed with cancelling their history, sacrificing their history to the gods of diversity? It is as if they wish to work some magic of themselves, to bring a Utopia into existence, by virtue of some sense of morality divorced from the true and living God. Was it not so for the Pharisees? Did they not believe in morality apart from a personal relationship with a living God? And did not Jesus remind them of this real and personal relationship with the Father through the Spirit which must be a part of who they were if those Jews were to truly be spiritual and not just religious? Is this not why we see Him weeping over Jerusalem today?

Hear again Dubose on this subject: “In Jesus Christ religion and morality are not two things but one. It is the nature of man to fulfil himself not by conformity to abstract laws but by union with living persons. . . . And in the larger home and life of our universal and eternal relationships it is not obedience to natural or divine laws that perfects us, but the personal Spirit of God filling us and fulfilling himself in us, and so enabling us to fulfil ourselves in him. Not by works of the law, but by the Spirit that works through holy faith, love and obedience wrought in us, are we saved.”[4]

It is in support of “Works of the Law” that the House of Prayer is made into a den of thieves – when we attempt, on our own, to support our own Tower of Babel, our own attempt to go up to heaven or bring God down to us, to establish what we think Jerusalem and the Holy Temple should look like; that is, when we attempt to build our own Utopia through these same “Works of the Law” rather than allowing God’s Holy Spirit to work a work in our lives, that is when we cancel one person as unholy and set up another as being righteous, sacrifice one and promote another, before idols of our own making.

What is the result of following, of worshiping, idols of our own making? First a holy God weepeth; next plague, famine, tearing down of walls of protection, and Death reapeth. And so, we find our Lord cleansing the Temple. A bold move to be sure. But as Dubose says, “The characteristic of our Lord’s ministry which made the most immediate and left the most permanent impression was the principle or quality of authority. It is not only that it was perforce conceded to Him by others, but that He unqualifiedly assumed it for Himself.”[5] And assume it He should, beloved, because He is both God and Man.

How then, beloved, are we to live? How shall we avoid the pitfalls of idolatry like our Gentile forefathers, or Works of the Law as the Pharisees tried to live by? How shall we avoid Jesus weeping over us as he did over Jerusalem? How shall we avoid being besieged by our enemies, plague, famine, and bodies heaped up while walls are torn down? How shall we avoid Jesus needing to cleanse our Church, our outward temple, or cleanse our souls, our inward temple? We prayed today, “Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee.” What shall we pray for? What shall please the Lord? We should pray for Grace.

Hear Dubose on the subject of Grace: “What then is Grace?” he asks. “It is simply that we are not to bring our goodness to God, but to bring it from Him. He is not our Father because we are His children; but we are His children because He is our Father. He does not love us because we love Him, but we love Him because He first loved us. In our relations with God we are to come to Him with the nothing that we are, and receive from Him the all things that He is.”[6] (emphasis mine) Let us pray.  

Almighty God, who didst give to thy servant William Porcher DuBose special gifts of grace to understand the Scriptures and to teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant, we beseech thee, that by this teaching we may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.[7]

[1] Page 493.

[2] Ibid, 494

[3] Ibid., 495.

[4] Ten Epochs of Church History: The Ecumenical Councils, 6

[5] The Gospel in the Gospels, 74.

[6] Glorious Companions, 494.

[7] Lesser Feasts and Fasts,


Trinity 9, 2022 – Fr. Geromel

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

This portion of Scripture continues in these words:

“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them: they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

It is the portion of the Gospel of Mark which corresponds to Matthew 28, where Christ says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

There was an article from Babylonbee recently entitled, “Man Tries to Get Into Heaven By Showing God Ukraine Flag In His Twitter Bio”. It begins, “PEARLY GATES – Anthony Spinner, a Wisconsin man who’d recently been broken in half during a backyard wrestling match, attempted to argue his way into the Kingdom of Heaven by showing Saint Peter the Ukraine flag he placed on his Twitter bio. He was reportedly turned away after being informed that Jesus had no idea who he was.”

Is this how we plan to get into heaven? I should hope not. But plenty, I fear, will try to say that they should get in because they are baptized, and that’s it. Is that enough?

Our text from Mark 16, corresponds quite well to our Epistle today, wherein we read that those who went through the wilderness experience went through a sort of baptism. They were under the cloud, passed through the sea, and were baptized unto Moses by going through the red sea. And yet, something tragic still happened to them. They lusted. They were idolaters. They were fornicators. They were destroyed of serpents. They were afflicted by evil spirits.

Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 16, commenting on this event in Salvation History says:

“For even when the terrible rages of wild animals Came upon Your people, And they were being destroyed by the bites of twisting serpents, Your wrath did not continue to the end. They were troubled for a short while as a warning. And received a pledge of salvation In remembrance of Your law’s command. For the one who turned to it was saved, not by what he saw, But by You the Savior of all. So in this You persuaded our enemies That You are the One who saves from every evil. For the bites of locusts and flies killed them, And no healing was found for their life, Because they deserved to be punished by such things. But the teeth of poisonous serpents Did not overcome Your children, For Your mercy came to their aid and healed them. For they were goaded to remind them of Your oracles And were quickly saved.” Notice how similar the themes are to what Mark 16 says – Baptism, in some way, saves and heals from serpents and poisons.

But I want to focus on this part of the text where it says “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Often we assume, perhaps wrongly, that it is saying that those who are not baptized will be condemned. That may be implied, but it is not the primary implication. If we follow the statement carefully, it is more likely the case that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but those who are baptized and do not believe will be condemned.

This is consistent with what is said about the time of Wilderness Wandering not just in 1 Corinthians which we read from today, but from the Book of Hebrews, where it says, concerning those who were forced to wander 40 years in the wilderness because of their rebellion: “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.” The Israelites, in some sense, heard the Gospel. In some sense, they were baptized. But it was not mixed with faith.

So when we receive baptism, per Mark 16, it is received in order to be mixed with faith – we are to believe. If we are baptized and do not believe, then we are condemned.

We receive a similar message in 1 Peter, only instead of using the story in Salvation History of the Wilderness Wandering, as Paul does in 1 Corinthians and in Hebrews, Peter uses the Old Testament story of Noah to make his point. Here this!

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit . . . who formerly were disobedient when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us – baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) . . .”

Fr. Farley, Orthodox scholar, in his commentary on this Epistle says, “Not, Peter says, that baptism saves automatically.” It is not a Ukraine flag on your Twitter feed. “Baptism indeed saves, but not because of the physical act of removal of filth from the flesh alone. The baptismal bath alone is not what saves, but rather baptism saves because that bath is also an appeal to God for a good conscience. It is the significance of the bath that brings regeneration and salvation; baptism is itself the Church’s appeal and request to God that the candidate be cleansed in his conscience, receiving the remission of sins.” How similar this is to what Wisdom of Solomon says about the Brazen Serpent, “For the one who turned to it was saved, not by what he saw, But by You the Savior of all.” We are not saved by washing by water, but by washing of the Blood of Christ offered on Calvary, and an appeal that that be applied to our guilty consciences.

How very similar is this statement by an Orthodox priest, to that profession made by Canon Richard Hobson, a low church, Church of Ireland man, no friend of Roman Catholicism, who makes this comment about his own baptism in the mid-19th Century. “I was born on October 7, 1831, in the picturesque village of Donard, Co. Wicklow; and I thank God that I was born into this world, and that during my temporary passage through it I have obtained, as God’s free gift, eternal life, by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit . . . I have often thought whether, in answer to the prayer of faith, that great gift may not have been bestowed upon me in baptism, . . . Why should it not have been? Prayer was specially offered in the baptismal service for my spiritual regeneration . . .

          “During my ministerial life I have had a growing appreciation of the baptismal service, and have often been grieved at the apparent hurry in which it is rushed through, as if the act per se on the one side, and ‘get it over’ on the other, were sufficient; causing one to think that the need of pleading, in prayer and faith, for the regeneration of the child could hardly be very deeply felt.” Indeed, the Prayer Book calls up those about to be baptized and those immediately involved to fast and pray before a Baptism. Why would it not be so if we are to make an appeal for a good conscience toward God.

Turning to our Gospel lesson today, can we see this idea of “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” played out? Of course, we can. Both the Prodigal Son and his brother were baptized. That is to say, they were called after their Father’s Name, who in the parable is a type of God the Father. The Commandments inform us that we are not to “Take the Lord’s Name in Vain” and this is not so much about letting certain words escape from our lips as it is about receiving the Lord’s Name that is placed upon His people in an empty way, and vainly, emptily, means not mixed with Faith. God says to Old Israel, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” This happens in Baptism when the Holy Trinity is placed on us, we are called after His Name.

The Prodigal Son did what Old Israel did during their wilderness wanderings. He lusted, idolized, he fornicated; he ate too much and then was hungry, he even murmured, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare!” But then, he claimed his baptism, he claimed his inheritance, he claimed his name; he had faith, he believed: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son . . .” The brother on the other hand, he too had an inheritance  – “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” – he too had a name, he too had his baptism; but he also had his very own trial. He had to sit at home being the good son, working hard, keeping his nose clean. St. Peter says to the baptized, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your” it doesn’t say baptism, you’ve already got that “the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory . . .”  

Getting back to where we started, Mark 16. This inheritance, this being called after the Father’s name, this Baptism, was something that the Prodigal Son recalled with Faith, Faith in the Promises, Belief in the Promises and what happened? “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons” Was the Prodigal Son’s Idolatry cast out? Yes. “they will speak in new tongues” Did the Prodigal Son learn a new language? Absolutely. “Father, I have sinned before heaven and before thee”. That is a new language of the heart.  “they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them: they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Yes, healings will follow if we “believe and are baptized”, if we mix faith with the Prophetic Word that has been spoken of us, when we are washed with water, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Amen.


8th Sunday after Trinity – Mr Gregory Seeley

We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—  for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.

For we have received the spirit of adoption to cry “Abba” – Father.

What a pertinent quote for our times.

We live in an age and culture which panders to every desire of the flesh.

We have the ability to get anything we want almost immediately online.

On your phone you can stream any video you’d like, from an opera, to a beautiful Mass, to far less savory material.

Access any photo, from the beautiful and pious to the lurid and immodest.

This panders to unhealthy impulses of our fallen flesh.

Are you hungry?  Are you in a hurry?

There are a dozen options for fast food.

But it’s not healthy food and does not nourish you properly.

What does all of this mean? It means that we are each probably going to partake of things that are bad for us, either physically or spiritually.

As St. Paul said in his epistle to the Romans: the good I want to do, I do not do. The evil which I do not want to do, that is what I do

And we see the effects of this fall all around us. Modern society attempts to define us by our appetites.

What kind of food do you like? What is your sexuality?

It seeks to pander to us by our varying moods and desires to control and dictate what to do with what God has given each of us from birth.

It hollers at us from atop the media mountain tops

Who and what do you want to be today?

 – Are you ready to demand that the world conform to the whims of your appetites?

Perhaps you would like to be a man today and then a woman tomorrow.

After all, why should you accept the limitations and gifts God offers us in our natural masculine or feminine bodies?

This mentality is of the selfish and fickle flesh, it reeks of the fallen wickedness of desire for ultimate power that flouts the order that God has established.

This is not as nature is, because nature knows by the guidance of God that man and woman come together and produce children (like for example, you don’t need Christianity to know that you don’t kill the unborn in the womb, common sense will tell you that), common sense tells you that men and women are different and complementary; but sin can throw that off.

You see, when you live in sin,

your moral compass can get thrown off,

you can lose sight of how things are supposed to work; you make excuses for your sin and weakness.

This is the same thing that can happen with drinking too much alcohol, or eating too much, or scrolling for hours through silly social media sites.

At some point you are going to start making excuses for yourself to continue your bad behavior.

Those who live in their flesh, satisfying its desires are going to find that they cannot be satisfied, that the flesh hungers more and more.

Pastors who tell people that this kind of mentality is loving because it is “open-minded” are not doing their faithful any favors.

These are the false shepherds Our Lord speaks about in the Gospel.

We can see this today unfortunately at Lambeth, the Church of England/Episcopal Church conference happening over the last week.

There were present at least 6 openly gay bishops and everyone was celebrating that fact.

What kind of fruit can such a sexually permissive church produce?

It focuses on pretending that sin is not sin and strives for worldly acceptance.

The faithful can see that that particular part of the Anglican Church has abandoned the Bible and is embracing Babylon instead.

Anyone who cannot put up with putting popular politics before Christ has to leave, and many continue to flee.

Because modernists like those at Lambeth cannot defend their position with the Bible, they become hostile and unwilling to argue; they just want their way…. Does that sound familiar?

Have you every listened to, or spoken with someone who is pro abortion or wants to enforce their views so called bodily autonomy.

Or how about gay marriage? They insist on you accepting their views on sexual deviance.

And they are always furious if you disagree with them, because truly they have no way to defend such transgressions; they just want it, they don’t want to have to argue or explain, and they want YOU to embrace their sins, not just love them in spite of them.

 You can see the slippery slope we slide down once you start making excuses for  sin, as though any amount of human “acceptance” can make it okay.

We live in a time where many people in our culture live according to the flesh, and you can see the death culture that has arisen in order to support this lifestyle. 

We who believe, who desire to be heirs of the kingdom of heaven and cry “Abba” to God our father, need to make use of the tools we have and set our sights on God, because the world is going to try and distract us with pleasures and permissiveness. 

Try and detach yourself from those things which tempt the flesh. I am not saying don’t use such things that assist you in doing your business or staying in touch with family and friends, but I am going to suggest, for example, If you can avoid it, that you do not carry your phone in your pocket. Keep it in a backpack, bag or jacket… again, if you can.

Keep a rosary in your pocket instead, or if you prefer, a prayer rope.

Try not to have apps like Facebook or Instagram, or TickTock on your phone… Use them on your laptop or desktop, so that they are not right at your fingertips.

I am going to suggest that you have a browser app on your phone, and have sites like, or North American Anglican on them.

These sites are good for interesting spiritual or historical reading.

Make sure you say Morning and Evening prayer. And use the readings from each of those prayers to think about during the day.

Search out good pastors, because the fruits of a religion which panders to sin is the culture of death which we see all around us and we who seek to love God know that this will not profit us.

We live in difficult times. Let us work together to pray, and learn about God and our holy religion, because you will find joy and peace therein. Something which is sorely lacking in today’s society.


Trinity 6 – 2022 – Fr. Geromel

An Exhortation to the proper use of the Holy Crucifix

Dear Friends, today we ask God in our Collect to “Pour into our hearts such love towards thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire”. The image of the Holy Cross does exactly this. It reminds us, and penetrates our hearts with the image of that love towards us, so that we might love that Love above all things.

In my meanderings through Facebook this week, I was struck by a post by Bishop Anthony Bondi on the feared Sioux chieftain, Sitting Bull, victor at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, who is featured in a famous photograph wearing a crucifix. I think most of us just assume this was a “trinket,” a pretty doodad, given by traders to ignorant Indians who didn’t know their real value for a few buffalo robes. This does not appear to be the case, however. One of the concerns during those rocky relations between Whites and aboriginal tribes on the Plains, it seems, was that the reservation officials did not allow Roman Catholic missionaries on the reservations to minister to Roman Catholic converts. Of course, such tribes would have already been influence by Roman Catholicism for decades, even a century or more, given how early “Black Robes” were out on the Plains. Yet the bigoted Protestantism of the government officials kept those on the reservations from the Holy Sacraments. So, it wasn’t all about our greed over land, but also about White Anglo-Saxon Protestant religious bigotry when it came to causing some of those vicious Indian Wars. Interestingly enough, when Sitting Bull was killed while they were attempting to arrest him for his part in the Ghost Dances of the 1890s, Sitting Bull was not participating in those pagan rites – perhaps because he was a good Roman Catholic – but simply allowing them to proceed.

          It is generally the case that a cross or crucifix is given by a godparent at a baptism, and this is longstanding. Such occurred at the conversion of Russia. Everyone who was baptized was given a little cross to indicate they had already been dipped in the river. Like a vaccination card or baptismal certificate, if you didn’t have one, I suppose they would dip you again! What is the meaning of this but that we are to become little Christs, Christians. St. Paul says to us today, “Know ye not, that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death . . .”

Unfortunately, some, like many of our own American forebears, considered the crucifix, even the cross, to be a matter of superstition. Not everyone. General George Pickett was given a crucifix when he was wounded in the Spanish American War and wore it the rest of his life, being a good Episcopalian of Virginian Huguenot descent. He didn’t care about the anti-Catholic bigotry around him. Certainly, he could care less. His second wife was of Haida tribal descent, after all, whom he married while serving in now Washington State. Both his first and second wives died in childbirth, and he eventually courted a teenager, marrying her when she was twenty and he was thirty-eight. Yes, he didn’t care what people thought. But he also knew what it was to suffer, and to wear the holy crucifix as a reminder of the One who suffered for him. He knew that Holy Matrimony was a joy and a cross to be born. One of my Brit Crime shows recently quoted, perhaps an old adage I hadn’t heard before, “There is pain in wedlock, but no joy in celibacy.”

In the Croatian church, there is a tradition that the Bride and Groom bring forward a crucifix during their Wedding Ceremony. The priest blesses it. During the exchange of vows, the bride puts her right hand on the crucifix, the groom puts his hand on hers, then the priest covers both hands with his stole. They do not say “Kiss the Bride” in Croatia, but they rather kiss the Holy Crucifix. That Crucifix goes to their new home as a married couple, where it is set up in a prominent place, to be prayed around, no doubt, and to be venerated, as a constant reminder that they are to “die to self” and “live for Christ” and be Christ to one another.  

Hear Martin Luther on the subject of the Holy Crucifix. “[W]hen I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart, just as the reflection of my face naturally appears in the water when I look into it. If it is not a sin but good to have an image of Christ in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes?” Indeed, both the plain cross and the crucifix represent to us the dying of Our Lord, but as one Lutheran pastor pointed out, putting an electric chair up on the altar – which is the equivalent today of what a cross was then – would represent to us the dying of the Lord Jesus, sure. But it wouldn’t really, because it was the One who died for us that is significant, not the mode by which He died. The One Who died for us was perfect, a perfect offering to the Father, and this, beloved, signifies to the wicked and the impious that they are to fear for their doom is near, and to those striving to be righteous that they are to rejoice, for their striving after righteousness “that exceeds that of the scribes and of the Pharisees” and their faith, faith that Jesus can make up for their lack of righteousness, is not in vain.

Yet the scoffers continue in their madness. In the Swedish movie about an agnostic pastor, The Winter Light, the pastor, staring at the crucifix on the reredos above the altar exclaimed, “What a ridiculous sight!” In one parish where I served, the man who gave a good deal of money to buy the church building left the church before it was consecrated because there was a crucifix, which he impiously called, “A barbie doll on a stick.” Yet it is not a ridiculous sight for those who truly know that the wages of sin is death and understand that we simply wish to recall that to our minds and to our hearts. Even among those who should know better, the idea that wearing a cross or a crucifix is superstitious, seeps in. In Bishop Giertz’s novels, there is a young woman impacted by pietistic, we might call that fundamentalist (although it isn’t exactly the same thing), preaching, who has stopped wearing her mother’s broach with a cross on it. Her father, a pastor, speaks to her saying, quite the opposite, “You must learn to trust him so completely . . . that you will dare to wear your mother’s brooch again, as you always used to wear it with this dress. You must so fully trust in Jesus that you may know that your salvation depends only on him.” The older, wiser, pastor, insightfully recognizes that it is not a lack of faith to wear the holy cross, but rather more a lack of faith not to wear it. Like a daughter trying to get dad to shut up, she says that she understands. He says that she doesn’t quite get the point: “If you did, you would not believe that he becomes a less merciful Savior because you wear the brooch . . .” He says to her, “Go to your room . . . put on your mother’s brooch, and say to the Savior, ‘I treasure Thy grace so highly, Lord, that I dare to carry this ornament . . .”[1]

Turning now, to the Gospel lesson, “Jesus said unto his disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This means that, while righteous, the Pharisees are not righteous enough. Their hearts are desperately wicked. They must have their righteousness from another, the Righteous One. The Righteous One must die on a Cross to set them free from their unrighteousness. Thus, the significance of the Cross with the Corpus, the Body, is of utmost importance. If the Corpus, the Body, was never there, then are you still in your sins, and of all men to be most pitied. For us who hold the Catholic Faith, whether it is a plain cross or no cross or a crucifix, that point of law holds true for us as for the divine justice – Habeas Corpus. We must have a Body. That Body must have appeared before three courts: the High Priest, Herod, and Pontius Pilate – and one final Court. That Body must stand in the Greatest Court in Heaven and Earth, the Supreme Court of Appeal. That Body must stand in order to reconcile us to the Father, bearing the stripes by which we are healed, the nails from which the Sacred Blood flows to wash our hearts and souls. Yes, it must be Habeas Corpus. So Habeas Corpus we might well place before our eyes to remind us Habemus Corpum – we have a Body, the Body of the Righteous One.

Continuing with our Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before thy altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” So it is fitting, beloved, that we have above our altar that sign of reconciliation between God and us, that we are to model with our brother. He has set the example, in Word and in Deed. Above the altar, stands that gift, on the altar is the fruit of that gift, in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. Let us look up to that gift, below to that gift, and share that gift – the gift of reconciliation between God and neighbor. In the Name…

[1] The Hammer of God, 58.


Pentecost 2022  “The bee is small among flying creatures, but her product is the best of sweet things.” Ecclus. 11:3

Let us pray again from the Book of Wisdom: “May God grant me to speak according to His purpose And to think worthily of what I was given, For He is also the guide of wisdom and the corrector of the wise. For both we and our words are in His hand, And so are all insights and knowledge of handicrafts. For He gives me knowledge of things that exist: To know the truthful structure of the world, The operative power of its elementary principles, The beginning, end, and the middle of the times, . . . The nature of animals and the tempers of beasts . . . And to know whatever is hidden and what is visible. For wisdom, the artisan of all things, taught me.” Amen.

In the ancient world, specifically in Egypt, bees had great signicance.

  • The bee was sign of the king of Lower Egypt.
  • It was used for sweetening food, of course.
  • To prevent infection being placed on wounds
  • To pay taxes and tribute money.
  • The sacred animals of Egypt were fed food sweetened by honey.
  • Mummies were embalmed in it and sarcophagi sealed with beeswax.
  • In King Tut’s tomb, there was a 2,000 year old jar of honey, still edible.
  • Sadly, Ancient Egyptian witchcraft made a voodoo doll out of beeswax and placed curses on it.
  • In the “Opening of the Mouth” Egyptian priests used special instruments to place honey in statues of gods, or mummies of kings.
  • More importantly, bees were moved up and down the Nile on rafts and taking of the flowers up and down the Nile. That is focus of our message today for Pentecost, moving about to find flowers.

Honey is likened to the Word of God. The Land of Israel was to be a land flowing with Milk and Honey. What is the significance of this? Babes drink of Milk, but cannot taste of the Honey. St. Paul tells about milk and strong meat – strong meat and honey I would submit are the same thing. Milk and Honey were given to those newly baptized in the early Church, a sign that they had entered the promised land, that they were going to have milk in the simple gospel and strong meat and honey in stronger sustenance as the Book of Hebrews says, “Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity . . .” (6:1 ESV).

          So we are to make the Church a Honeycomb. Song of songs, the Song of Solomon, speaking as Christ to His Bride, the Church, says “Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.” 5:1 says, “I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk.” We are to smell, as the Church, like incense, our clothes should be saturated with it, metaphorically if not truly. We are to taste, as the Church, like milk and honey. It should be on our breath. We should speak of the Word of God, in other words, when we lie down and when we rise up and when we walk about.

  • We know, of course, about the birds and the bees, and how bees help to pollenate plants. We are to be, as bees, those who help create life wherever we go. Spreading good seed from one plant to another as we go. Song of Songs 6:1 – the Church says, “My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am my beloved and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.”
  • Every honey is a bit different based on the flowers that are suckled. Every congregation will be a bit different based on the mix that that congregation has, but it will all be honey, will all be sweet. It will all be life.

Switching metaphors: Friday, we went strawberry picking. Everyone hopes to grab that big luscious, newly ripened, strawberry. But one thing one notices that no matter how small the strawberry, when it is ripe, it is ripe. It is ready for picking. Christ says, “Do you  not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest? Look, I tell you, life up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Listen Church! This is a promise for you now. There are truly times of famine and times of plenty, and some harvests are bigger than others. But you get into that strawberry patch, and it is pretty well picked over, but you find, here is a little and there is a little that has not been touched.

We say, our grandchildren have moved away, our children are no longer with us, from where are we to reap our harvest? What does the Word say? Leviticus 23:22 “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” What happened in the Book of Ruth? Ruth, as a widow and as a sojourner and as a poor woman was permitted to glean from the harvest and pick up the little pieces and to put them together to provide a meal for her. This is permitted to all churches that have not their children and grandchildren near to them geographically or spiritually.

  • You will also note that the there is but a short moment between a strawberry becoming ripe and it being eaten by bugs.
  • That even if one is bitten by bugs there might be one next to it that is not at all touched. Just because someone is not from a good environment does not mean that they are a bad apple.
  • That the bigger ones often seem to be eaten the most. We should not set our eyes on the biggest prizes, necessarily – the most influential in a community and seek to bring them into our churches – we shouldn’t avoid them either.
  • How are we to glean anything when there are so many bugs devouring the berries? The bugs are finite. There are only so many of them and only so many strawberries that they can get into and spoil. The same is true of the minions of a spiritual adversary. They are adept at flying around and spoiling souls, but they are finite in number.

I had perceived this before, but my wife’s cousin, who is a missionary with his wife and family in Prague, said it very well. His job as a missionary is to be around getting to know people to see those in whom God is working. These are the berries, small and great, that are ripe and not spoiled too much by sin, and if they are spoiled by sin, ready for repentance.

But we must be careful, very wary, as be gather nectar and build the church, of those false and untrue. We must have discernment. Honey has a bad connotation in the Word of God as well. Proverbs 5:1 and following: “My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.”

There are, of course, false churches who also drip with honey. This is true, but there are those who have no real nectar to glean, who will tantalize us to come to them and see if we can gather from them to build the Church.

There is an apocryphal story about King Solomon and the bees. A bee stung King Solomon on the nose when he was out in the garden, out grazing among the lilies. He called the bees and asked who stung him, for he had done nothing to offend. One bee stepped forward and declared that King Solomon was so sweet and fragrant, that he had mistaken his nose for a flower. When he realized it was a flower, he was startled and stung the great king.

Later the Queen of Sheba visited him and tested his acclaimed and worthy Wisdom. She brought him a bouquet of flowers, only one of which was real, and the rest were artificial. Solomon had much difficulty until the bee, who had stung him, whom he had befriended came and landed on the one flower that was real.

Beloved, if we seek out those in whom God is truly working, if we avoid those who are poisonous and dealing falsely, those who are artificial, we may not grow as quickly as some other congregations, but in the end, those who observe us will praise our Wisdom, as the Queen of Sheba did that great king. Let us be patient. Let us be wise. Let us gather flowers while we may.

I shall end with a Poem that you likely know well by Robert Herrick (d. 1674), with a biblical title, with Christ’s warning to His Church – “To the virgins, to make much of time”  

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
   Tomorrow will be dying.


The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
   The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he’s to setting.


That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former.


Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may forever tarry.

In Christ’s story, five virgins were wise, and five virgins were foolish. May God grant us wisdom, patience and courage, to be among that 50% who “redeem the time, because the days are evil.”

Sunday after the Ascension – 2022 – sermon notes

“There is prosperity in the midst of adversities . . .” Ecclesiasticus 20:9a

Ants have been pretty “pesky” lately. Ecclesiastes 10:1 says, “Dead flies will corrupt the preparation of seasoned olive oil . . .” and we know that ants crawling all over stuff corrupt stuff.

Bug guy called several times but they are persistent. Nevertheless, we can learn some things about how we should be as Christians from ants. Let’s look at ants for some Scriptural signs of how we are to be as Christians, ““a worthy colony of the servants of God.” Let us pray, from the Wisdom of Solomon:

“May God grant me to speak according to His purpose And to think worthily of what I was given, For He is also the guide of wisdom and the corrector of the wise. For both we and our words are in His hand, And so are all insights and knowledge of handicrafts. For He gives me knowledge of things that exist: To know the truthful structure of the world, The operative power of its elementary principles, The beginning, end, and the middle of the times, . . . The nature of animals and the tempers of beasts . . . And to know whatever is hidden and what is visible. For wisdom, the artisan of all things, taught me.” Amen.

Pretty well known that Ants can lift 10 to 50 times their own weight. Proverbs 6:7-9 says,

“Compare yourself with the ant, O sluggard. And be zealous when you see his ways, And become wiser than he. For although he has no tilled land. Neither anyone to compel him, Nor any master to rule him, Yet he prepares all his food in the summer And makes his provisions abundant in the winter.” NKJV

Proverbs is saying that ants do this by holy Wisdom and we are to do the same, and if we do so, we will not be tired in well doing. Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-14 says,

“Wisdom is radiant and unfading And is easily perceived by those who love her; For she is found by those who seek her. She comes to those who long to know her beforehand. He who rises early in the morning to seek her Will not grow weary . . .”

The Evolutionists say that ants have been farming and colonizing and herding longer than humans.

We might well be aware that ants follow chemical trails of pheromones and even teach other ants using pheromones. We should be taught by each other as well, in Christ.  

Wisdom 6 again, “For the beginning of wisdom Is a very genuine desire for instruction, And careful attention to instruction is love of her.”

But some ants don’t have eyes and some don’t have ears. We too are to walk by faith not by sight.

Some ants, when waters rise, link themselves together so that they can create a living raft.

Psalm 124 says, “If the Lord had not been with us . . . when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive. When their anger raged against us, Then the water would have drowned us: Our soul would have passed through a torrent. Then our sould would have passed through A water that is overwhelming.” NKJV

Psalm 133 says, “Behold now, what is so good or do pleasant As for brothers to dwell together in unity.” NKJV

Ants work together in highly organized colonies of Queens, Drones, Soldiers, and Ants.

Queens are larger and make baby ants.

Drones are the males and fertilize eggs and have wings so they can fly away in times of danger and start new colonies.

Soldiers and Workers are females.

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” Ephesians 4:11, 12 NKJV

“Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Acts tells us that the early Christians held all things in common. Although we might carefully investigate what that actually means, but in the context of our Epistle today, we might ask, does the ant, coming back with a burden 10 to 50 times its weight, say, that’s mine, I earned it, only I get to eat it? No, they “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another . . .”

This is, however, discerned by the Spirit of God, blowing where He chooses. Sometimes ants form multiple colonies into super colonies, mega colonies, by some inspiration of nature that only they, or only the Holy Spirit, or Holy Wisdom, can communicate. Other times, ants choose to be in very small communities. We must carefully discern, by prayer and the Holy Spirit, when to work with other Christians who are different from us, like different species of ants, and when we are to choose to be in very small communities of as small as ten to twelve. For what purpose? What is our purpose as Christians?

Jesus says to us today, “when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning. “I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.”

We sometimes feel as if we are doing good service by stopping ants. You stop Scouts because they will forage for food and find ways to send messages back and suddenly you will have a “flash mob” of ants eating something somewhere. We feel as if we are doing good service by sending poison down to infest their colonies. Others feel as doing the same thing to Christians is good service.

Will we be like the ants, moving with a purpose as if the “end of all things is at hand”?

If the way is stopped one way, will we look for another way to pop out and find ways to witness to Jesus? If our Queen is killed “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” but will we find ways to regroup?

Acts 12 relates: “Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also.” But the end of the chapter tells us that Herod was “struck” by an “angel of the Lord” “because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God grew and multiplied”

When we are destroyed in one place, our drones go out and plant new colonies.


Easter 4 – 2022

“Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? . . . Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?” Matt. 23:17, 19

Theological question: Why is it not okay to hold up bread and wine to the TV during a livestream mass, and then receive Holy Communion? Concerning these thoughts I am indebted to Jesse Billett, Assoc. Professor of Liturgy and Ecclesiastical History at Trinity College, University of Toronto and his article “Covid and Communion”.

The corresponding text: Exodus 29:37 “Seven days thou shalt make an atonement for the altar, and sanctify it; and it shall be an altar most holy: whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy”

If we think about this, it sounds superstitious, in both the Old Testament and the New. Magic altar, whatever touches it is magic too!

If it is true when Moses said it, or rather God said it, in the Old Testament, certainly it is true when Jesus said it in the New Testament. Certainly, it can’t be superstitious.

Concerning the Holy Communion, there are two extremes both of which should be avoided for Orthodoxy – the absence of one-sidedness.

Sacerdotalism: “Where there is no priest, there is no sacrament, where there is no sacrament, there is no salvation.” The first two are three, the third point is a leap. The Sacraments of Baptism and Communion require a priest, except in emergency, when any may perform Baptism. Even then these two are the regular means of salvation, the usual way God works, not the only way God works.

Congregationalism: “Where the priesthood of all believers is, there is the Holy Spirit and there are all things necessary for salvation.”

As John Boys, sometime Dean of Canterbury, pointed out, this is to make a bizarre sort of animal, one with all head and no body, the other with all body and no head!

Rather this quote from Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou of Essex: “In the life of the Church one can discern two dimensions: the horizontal, comprising the institutional traditions and sacraments, and the vertical, by which the sacramental life is reinforced through the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He says, “We need traditional priesthood since no sacrament of the Church can take place without this. However, we also need this distinct gift of the Holy Spirit by which man participates in the royal priesthood of Christ. Every person who has been baptized . . . is able to acquire this gift. Without this gift, traditional priesthood cannot truly fulfil its purpose. It is not possible for any of these two forms – the traditional and the charismatic – to be excluded from the life of the Christian believer . . .”

Here we can discern that the Priesthood on its own devolves into a sort of Paganism, the Holy Man or Shaman works everything. The Congregation on its own, too, devolves into a sort of Paganism, the people in Assembly can make their own “god”. Aaron did so on behalf of the mob, apart from the Commandment of God, becoming a tool of the mob, and created a golden calf for Israel to worship.

The Baal prophets on Mount Carmel were both a mob, on behalf of a crowd with “itching ears,” conjuring false gods by their cries and cuts and false covenants. Elijah did not devolve into a Holy Man or Shaman without a true people. The people turned back to the true God as a result of his witness and he had a congregation again. Even though he did not know it, there was still a true congregation of God, the holy remnant, who had not bowed a knee to Baal worship.

Concerning the one altar, it is true that God worship is heavenly worship where there is but one altar. Jesus is Priest, Victim, and Temple. He makes things that touch Him holy. It is not dependent, and never was, on just a priest or just a congregation. It was always dependent on Jesus. E.L. Mascall writes,

“Although in a secondary and descriptive sense we may rightly describe each celebration of the Holy Eucharist as ‘a mass’, in the primary and ultimate sense there is only one Mass, offered by the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, at the Last Supper, on Calvary and in Heaven. …In this ultimate sense we do not celebrate masses or attend masses; we celebrate mass and attend mass. For every earthly mass is simply the Church’s participation in the one heavenly Mass.”

He then goes into some heady stuff, but his thought is centered again to bring us to this main point.

“The very purpose of the mass is that the one redemptive act of Christ should be made accessible to us who are scattered about in space and time, so why should we be afraid of multiplicity, since multiplicity is the condition under which, by our nature, we bodily creatures live? What makes the mass one and corporate is not the fact that a lot of people are together at the same service, but the fact that it is the act of the one Christ is his Body (corpus) the Church.”

The One Altar, is a sign of the One Altar in heaven.

The rubrics direct us to place the bread and wine on the altar. If there is no altar, there is at least a priest. If there is no priest, no altar, but one or two individuals watching a livestream, then the act of Spiritual Communion, which has been a part of our theology for centuries, from the Middle Ages, and still present in the rubrics, is the correct act of devotion, not holding up Communion bread and wine near the TV.

These are iconic realities. The Priest is an Icon of the High Priest. The Altar is an Icon of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The Bread and Wine are icons of the Body and Blood of Christ. To change the Icon, is to change the symbol, to change the symbol is to change the meaning. Coke and Potato Chips do not represent the Body of Christ or Blood of Christ. They lack the iconic nature, and the institutional nature. Jesus celebrated the Lord’s Supper on a Table, not on an altar, but the altar, it too is the Holy Table, God’s Board, and so we address it in our poetry.

John of Kronstadt stated,

“The Divine Liturgy is truly a heavenly service upon earth, during which God Himself, in a particular, immediate, and most close manner, is present and dwells with men, being Himself the invisible Celebrant of the service, offering and being offered. . . . The temple, at this particular time, becomes and earthly heaven; those who officiate represent Christ Himself, the Angels, the Cherubim, Seraphim and Apostles. The Liturgy is the continually repeated solemnization of God’s love to mankind, and of His all-powerful mediation for the salvation of the whole world, and of every member separately . . .”


Epiphany 2 – 2022

On November 19th, 1854 (my wife’s birthday), Texas President Sam Houston was baptized into membership in Independence Baptist Church in the Little Rocky Creek by Rufus C. Burleson, President of Baylor University. Of course, he was baptized once or twice before. His family were Presbyterians, with many Presbyterians leaders in his clan. I suppose that means he was baptized Presbyterian as a child – but I’m not sure as I did not find definite evidence in the short time I spent researching that. Then he was baptized a Roman Catholic in order to become a Mexican citizen before Texas Independence, at which point he took the name “Paul”. (He needed, it is said, a “Catholic” saint for a baptismal name – but I find this rather hard to believe, since Samuel is an Old Testament saint. So perhaps the name Paul really did signify something meaningful to him.) Then finally as a Baptist. This I suppose means that he received baptism not only three times, but in the three different ways, the three different ways that it is possible to be baptized. He was probably sprinkled as a Presbyterian, as it is called, by aspersion. The water was probably poured over his head, by affusion, when he was baptized a Roman Catholic. And finally, by immersion as a Baptist. As the story goes, coming up out of the water and being told by the preacher that his sins were washed away in Little Rocky Creek, he said, “God help the fish.” Or words to that effect. St. Ephrem the Syrian who died around 373 A.D., in his Hymns for the Feast of the Epiphany, describes this immersion poetically: “The baptized when they come up are sanctified; – the sealed when they go down are pardoned. – They who come up have put on glory; – they who go down have cast off sin. – Adam put off his glory in a moment; – ye have been clothed with glory in a moment. (VI. 9)”  

          We might ask the significance of Jesus’ Baptism as it is recalled to us in our Gospel lesson. And I think that this story of Sam Houston’s exclamation at the realization of the awfulness of his sins, a realization that if they had a physical manifestation they would be a toxic pollutant in the creek, is helpful in showing the difference between Christ’s Baptism and our own. In the case of our baptisms, we might well defile the water if our sins took on a physical manifestation – putrid, foul, odious. But for Christ’s Baptism, the waters were sweetened by His presence in the River Jordan. So St. Ephrem the Syrian comments: “Adam sinned and earned all sorrows; – likewise the world after His example, all guilt. . . . This cause summoned Him that is pure, – that He should come and be baptized even He with the defiled, – Heaven for His glory was rent asunder. – That the purifier of all might be baptized, with all, – He came down and sanctified the water for our baptism. (X. 1-2)” So here, we might well understand that while in the case of Sam Houston, the fish might be in imagined metaphysical danger, in reality it is by the Baptism of Jesus that the fish are, on a certain level, saved.

          Why is this? In the mind of St. Ephrem and other Church Fathers, today’s Gospel lesson shows to us the beginning of the new heaven and new earth which Christ himself came by the will of the Father to effect. This goes far beyond the normal way we understand Baptism today. Today, Baptism is seen as an individual matter, much as Sam Houston saw it when he became a Baptist in 1854. It is a matter of individual salvation, individual purity, individual sin being washed away. But this is not exactly how the Church Fathers saw things. Sure, there was an individual level on which we all accept Jesus and are sanctified by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, but for the ancient Church things went deeper than that. St. Ephrem saw in the Baptism of Jesus today the story of Genesis, and a beginning of re-creation: “The Spirit came down from on high, – and hallowed the waters by His brooding. (VI. 1a)” St. Ephrem is saying that, just as in the beginning of Creation so at the beginning of the New Creation. “In the beginning the Spirit that brooded – moved on the waters; they conceived and gave birth – to serpents and fishes and birds. – The Holy Spirit has brooded in Baptism, – and in mystery has given birth to eagles, – Virgins and Prelates; and in mystery has given birth to fishes, – celibates and intercessors . . . VIII. 16)” “For lo! The Angels rejoice – – over one sinner if he repent: – how much more do they now rejoice – that in all churches and congregations, – lo! Baptism is bringing forth – the heavenly from the earthly! (VI. 8)” It is not just a matter of individuals, but individuals baptized into congregations made up of individuals with varying gifts such as Virgins and Prelates, Celibates and Intercessors.

          Indeed, in the mind of St. Ephrem and others, we find that when the water destroyed the earth in the time of Noah for man’s sins, water again restored to life from the effects of sin, but this time through the Baptism of Jesus. In the Middle East, where St. Ephrem was from, the houses were made of mud and so he makes this analogy: “A house that is of dust when it has fallen, – by means of water can be renewed: – the body of Adam that was dust, – which had fallen by water has been renewed. – Lo! The priests are builders – afresh renew your bodies. (VI. 10).” And then the priests anoint the body of the newly baptized, and this, beloved, we do still today. And this beloved, points back to God healing the earth through water at the time of Noah and in the Gospel lesson today, a Dove broods over the water as in the time of Noah. St. Ephrem is imagining that the Dove is declaring, “Lo! Quiet waters are before you, – holy and tranquil and pleasant; – for they are not the waters of contention . . . There are waters whereby – there is reconciliation made with Heaven. (VIII. 14)” Also, “The leaf of olive arrived, brought as a figure of the anointing; the sons of the Ark rejoiced to greet it, for it bore good tidings of deliverance. Thus also ye rejoiced to greet it, even this holy anointing. The bodies of sinners were glad in it, for it brought good tidings of deliverance. (III. 8).”

          And it is here, at this point, that we can reach back to our Collect and Epistle today, having looked at our Gospel lesson. We prayed: “Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth; Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life.” Peace is what that Dove brought, in the beginning of the world, at the end of the Flood, and at the Baptism of Jesus. Supplication is what we can make by virtue of our Baptism. Supplication is made by virtue of our union in Christ through anointing. The anointing is what combines us as one Church, (that we all receive the same anointing, the same Christ) despite the many gifts and personalities that we are. So St. Paul says to us today, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching . . .” etc. We also become ministers to Him like the angels above by our Baptism. So St. Ephrem says, “Descend, my brethren, put on from the waters of baptism the Holy Spirit; – be joined with the spirits that minister to the Godhead! For lo! He is the fire that secretly, seals also His flock, – by the Three spiritual Names, . . . . Lo! The fire and the Spirit, my brethren, in the baptism of truth. . . . . For greater is Baptism than Jordan that little river; – for that in streams of water and oil, the misdeeds of all men are washed out. (V. 1-2, 4, 5)” “Descend my sealed brethren, put ye on our Lord, – and be rejoined to His lineage, for He is son of a great lineage, – as He has said in His word. From on high is His nature, and from beneath His Vesture. (IV. 1-2a).”

          And here we get an understanding of what we are to be to other men from those final words of St. Paul in his Epistle, “Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.” We are to be like the angels, in ministering to Christ, and be like Christ, in ministering to others. “The Angels and the Watchers rejoice – over that which is born of the Spirit and of water: they rejoice that by fire and by the Spirit, – the corporeal have become spiritual. – The Seraphims who sing “Holy” rejoice, – that they who are made holy have been increased (VI. 7)” Our sealing, our Baptism, is to make us to come down, as Christ came down, to speak Peace, in the midst of Contention, to work mercy in the midst of affliction and vengeance, to mingle his strength through his sacraments to the weakness of others. Let me begin my conclusion with these words, “God in His mercy stooped and came down, – to mingle His compassion with the water, – and to blend the nature of His majesty – with the wretched bodies of men. – He made occasion by water – to come down and to dwell in us: – like to the occasion of mercy – when He came down and dwelt in the womb: – O the mercies of God – Who seeks for Himself all occasions to dwell in us! (VIII. 1)” We should then do no less than to dwell with others and minister to others “according to the grace that is given to us”.

          I’m sure that Sam Houston was a complicated individual and, no doubt, a great sinner. He was, after all, not just a soldier but a politician. We see great complexity in men like him who were raised Protestant in places like Tennessee and became Roman Catholic in order to vote as Mexican Citizens, and then rebelled against that same Mexican government. And we can debate whether one Baptism, or two, or three were necessary to his salvation or if he was a hypocrite during all three of them. (It is not for us to judge but to be instead wary of our own hypocrisy.) Yet in all three, I have no doubt, Christ was effectively working on a sinful man, as in a great mystery. In the waters of Baptism, we see Christ, as the perfect image of the Father, working on our image to become conformable to His Image, according to His revealed will but also in a mysterious way so very individual to that individual and to the graces and gifts given to that individual. St. Ephrem again, “Water is by nature as a mirror, – for one who in it examines himself. – Stir up thy soul, thou that discernest, – and be like unto it! – For it in its midst reflects thy image; – from it, on it, find an example; – gaze in it on Baptism, – and put on the beauty that is hidden therein.” The voice of conscience, thru the voice of Christ, operates in calling us to public service, whether on the battlefield or in the public forum or in the humbler tasks, and operates in helping us to discern how it is that we might constantly shed our sin and serve our fellow men. Baptism is the sacrament of that shedding and of that serving. Holy Communion is the sacrament in which we are fed by His Strength and by His Life to continue that shedding and that serving.     


Sunday after the Epiphany – 2022 – “Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, For ever and ever. Amen.”

We have begun ringing the bell from the belltower more often. In accordance with the rubric in the 1662 Book Common Prayer, I was already endeavoring to remember to toll the bell before I said daily morning and evening prayer on my own here in the church. We are now ringing it at the Angelus at noonday mass on Thursdays and during the Sanctus and Words of Institution at high mass, 10 am on Sundays.

               Given a few significant things that came across my notice this last week, I want talk about our lessons today, the theme of Epiphany, and our last bit of the Lord’s Prayer, “For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen” in light of church bells. Indeed, in some Protestant countries the bells are tolled at the Lord’s Prayer during the service so that everyone in the community may participate whether they are in the church building or not. First, I want to quote from Thomas Merton, that contemplative and popular Cistercian writer from the last century: 

“Bells are meant to remind us that God alone is good, that we belong to him, that we are not living for this world.

They break in upon our cares in order to remind us that all things pass away and that our preoccupations are not important.

They speak to us of freedom, which responsibilities and transient cares make us forget.

They are the voice of our alliance with the God of heaven.

They tell us that we are his true temple. They call us to peace with him within ourselves.

The Gospel of Mary and Margaret is read at the end of the Blessing of a Church Bell in order to remind us of all these things.

The bells say: business does not matter. Rest in God and rejoice, for this world is only the figure and the promise of a world to come, and only those who are detached from transient things can possess the substance of eternal promise.

The bells say: we have spoken for centuries from the towers of great churches. We have spoken to the saints, your fathers, in their land. We called them, as we call you, to sanctity.” — Thomas Merton from “Thoughts in Solitude”

And I’m going to quote now from a blog article at Holy Theophany Orthodox Church. Theophany, of course, is the Orthodox name for the Feast of the Epiphany and so that is significant, I think.

“In the Russian tradition, the zvon, or peal, depends, of course, on the occasion. For funerals, weddings, feasts, or processions there is a theology in sound, not unlike the theology in color of the corresponding holy icon, though more improvisational, and more public. The ringer, ordained to interpret the true Christian understanding of sorrow, tolls for the dead and makes present the bright sadness of Holy Week; called to proclaim the Resurrection, announces the good news of Pascha; sent to rally the community, captures and expresses the tempo and movement of a festal procession. Thus are sacred history extended, and the saints celebrated. . . .

“The zvon of the bell manifests the faith of the Church that cast it – of humans familiar with fire and molten metal, with earth and sky, with form and sound just as an icon also reveals the Church’s soul. It makes spiritual space palpable. Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin paraphrases: “The vibrations set off by the peal create, in a world of dense matter, an image of sunlight piercing the atmosphere, of the gleam of candles in a dark church, of the fragrance of myrrh, streaming from the bones of a saint.”

“If a single bell is a resounding icon of God’s voice, then the zvon of all the bells together is an icon of the liturgy, of its atmosphere. Born in the depths of the Church’s spiritual relation to matter, it interprets our understanding of God and creation.

“A monk, one of Russia’s most talented bellringers, put it like this: “When the ringer approaches the bells prayerfully, his soul rings as well” and with an exultant peal he paints the church’s vision in sound and space. At another time, he reveals in quieter colors, in a more laconic chiming above the measured and majestic sighs of the great bells, the meaning of repentance – of joy lost and found again, and again…

“Taking inspiration from the service, from prayer and from communion with God, the bell-ringer expands the Church’s experience of peace and faith out into society, sharing and embracing all of creation in the One sacrament of communion. “The sound of the bell evokes a profound response in the spirit and soul… an unusually powerful response, made less perhaps by beauty, than by awe at such beauty.”

“Suspended between heaven and earth, the bell lives in two worlds and, by its sound, joins them.” Russians say, “The great bells are thunder in the sky; the medium ones are wind in the forest, the smallest are the birds…. the elements are singing!”

“The ringer finds him or herself in a realm of wind, sun, sky and birds, outside time. “I always look up, over the earth and into the sky” one bell-ringer said.

“And a Muscovite wrote down, “The zvon comes from on high. You can’t see where it comes from… it floats above the city like a cloud—pure, weightless, and free. It’s in the heights, and from the heights; it’s unreachable as a cloud, as the azure sky itself—above and beyond humanity, like the sun or moon, high and free and beautiful.

“From the bells: sound, made spirit.

From the Virgin: Word, made flesh.”

These thoughts, I think, sum up much of the sacramental nature of bell ringing, giving outward and visible vibrations and wave-lengths, to the inward and spiritual life of the Church, which of course is the means of Salvation here on earth. In the Holy Epiphany, we reflect on these manifestations of God’s grace in our life. So it is fitting that we reflect on such a manifestation in the life of the church as is only performed by bell ringing.

Today, we see a collect in which we pray, that God “receive the prayers of thy people who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same.” St. Paul says, “And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Cor. 14: 7, 8). What he is referring here, is essentially what our collect is referring to today, which is the distinct notes of the Word of God, directing us in what we are to do, which is what the Church proclaims, and the bells are an outward and visible sign of reminding us what we are to be about as the Church.

In our Epistle today, St. Paul in Romans tells us, we are to be living sacrifices. We might add that that sacrifice is most visibly and publicly made in the Church, where we are first baptized and then pay our vow to the most High, especially in Holy Communion. The bells call us to said church building to offer sacrifice. St. Paul says that we are, by grace, not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought think – and bells which tell us of death and the transient nature of life remind us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. St. Paul reminds us today that we are “many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many , or one body in Christ . . .” and this fact the bells, when pealing, or in melody, remind us by their distinction between one sound and another, that all of us being the people of God do by and from our different perspectives give voice to what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do as priestly people. We are one body with different notes that we sound, and in harmony we do well. We show forth that one body which is Christ’s body.


In our Gospel lesson, we see a child in Jerusalem, spending time in the Temple. This Temple, which we are in that we are Christ’s body, was to be a sign of God’s Kingdom here on earth, and God’s Kingdom yet to come. The people of God were not called in that time by bells to worship the Lord God Jehovah, but were called by the blowing of Rams’ horns. They were by vibrations, by wave-lengths, but also by something made of flesh, because theirs was a sacrifice of flesh, rams, bulls, goats, the sprinkling of an heifer, sprinkling, as the Book of Hebrews tells us, the unclean. But in these latter days, we call to worship traditionally by bells. And we might be able to say that, fashioned as they are in metal, they show forth that we have a more everlasting Covenant through the blood and flesh of Christ Jesus than we ever did with fleshly sacrifice of critters. Indeed, the Gospel lesson shows forth his death and resurrection to come. “And when they found him not” that is when he was dead to them (for certainly what parent, when a child has gone missing, does not fear his death) “they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him” – later they also found him risen from the dead after three days’ time. Even after his ascension, he is about his father’s business. He is seeking the lost, he is establishing his kingdom, a permanent kingdom, not a transient one. He is tolling all his own into his father’s temple not made with hands, eternal in the heaven. And this we remember whenever we say, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” In saying this, “Amen,” we evoke the last part of the Book of Revelation where it says, “He that testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Let us Pray. Our Father . . .


Second Sunday after Christmas – Lead us not into Temptation, But deliver us from Evil.

In a collection of prayers, the following is provided for New Year’s Day from the Liturgy of St. Mark used by the Coptic Orthodox Church.

We render unto Thee our thanksgiving, O Lord our God, Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by all means, at all times, in all places. (or as I recall it being prayed in modern English, “for every condition concerning every condition”) For that Thou hast sheltered, assisted, supported, and led us on through the time past of our life, and brought us to this hour. And we pray and beseech Thee, O God and loving Lord, grant us to pass this day, this year, and all the time of our life without sin, with all joy, health, and salvation. But all envy, all fear, all temptation, all the working of Satan, do Thou drive away, O God, from us, and from Thy holy Church. Supply us with things good and profitable. Whereinsoever we have sinned against Thee, in word, or deed, or thought, be Thou pleased in thy love and goodness to forgive, and forsake us not, O God, who hope in Thee, neither lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one and from his works; by the grace and compassion of Thine only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This, we might say, is an elaboration on our petition in the Lord’s Prayer that we are studying today, “Lead us not into Temptation, but deliver us from Evil.” This prayer from the ancient liturgy of Egypt matches very closely the one in our Prayer Book for Family Morning Prayer. “Almighty and everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being; We, thy needy creatures, render thee our humble praises, for thy preservation of us from the beginning of our lives to this day, and especially for having delivered us from the dangers of the past night. . . .”

St. James might be said to comment on these two petitions: “Lead us not into Temptation” and “Deliver us from Evil” in two places of his Epistle. “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” (1: 13 NKJV) and “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (4:7 NKJV).

Charles Gore, in his lectures on the Lord’s Prayer says of “Lead us not into Temptation”  “[I]t is natural to interpret this particular clause . . . in the sense of “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” Temptation” he says, “is there treated as the punishment of the carelessness which neglects to watch and pray. And from this point of view we should naturally interpret “Lead us not into temptation” thus: Suffer us not to live in spiritual carelessness, so that temptation should come upon us as a snare to our overthrow. This is very necessary prayer. People are very frequently anxious about their spiritual condition when they actually find themselves engulfed in temptation, who have been utterly careless in running into it. If men in general gave real thought to their truest welfare it would be impossible for them to pay so little attention to possible spiritual results in making their great choices, such as determine largely the future of their lives.”

In this way we find our connective with the Christmas story we hear today, Joseph and his hearing of dreams. You are usually a spiritual careful person, a watchful person, in order to be able to remember and interpret dreams. These dreams guided Joseph, as the head of his household, to safety to take Mary as his wife, to lead them to Egypt, to lead them back again, and then to lead them to Nazareth. In this way, the second Joseph is even better than the first. The first Joseph could see and interpret dreams, but he was not quite circumspect. He was not as careful to avoid those pitfalls that were set in his way. He revealed his dream to his brothers and got sold into slavery in Egypt. He was not as careful and circumspect when it came to being nearby another man’s wife and was put into prison. The second Joseph is an extremely cautious fellow, so cautious that God has to rouse him up with dreams to get him to go to Egypt.

These words of Charles Gore also speak of what Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus encountered as the avoided peril on their way to Egypt and their way back to Nazareth. Gore says, “. . . the temptations that come from visible and tangible sources draw their strength from a source which is unseen. Behind visible foes there is an invisible; behind the visible opposition of evil men there is an invisible prince of darkness and an unseen host of fallen spirits intruding themselves into the highest things, into heavenly places.”[1]   

[1] Gore, Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.


Christmas – 2021 – Fr. Peter Geromel

Our post-communion collect for the season of Advent has been praying: “GRANT to us, O Lord, we beseech thee: so to wait for thy loving kindness in the midst of thy Temple, that in readiness of heart and mind we may hail the coming feast of our redemption.” In Advent we have done just that, awaited the loving-kindness of the Lord in the midst of His Temple, His Church, that we might “hail the coming feast of our redemption.” We might ask, what is it to “hail” something? Our minds no doubt turn to the Ave Maria, the “Hail Mary” as it is said in English, words of salutation coming from Scripture, from the announcement of the Angel Gabriel unto the Blessed Virgin Mary. Perhaps our minds should go there, since the Prophetess Anna and the Aged Simeon had been waiting just as this collect describes in the midst of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, awaiting the promised Messiah. Perhaps the Post-Communion prayer is meant to evoke exactly that image of those waiting for what Malachi prophesied in chapter 3 of that Book, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”

               My mind has turned on this idea of hailing for the whole of Advent now and I want to reflect on a Christmas tradition known to us, to a greater or lesser extent, as Wassailing. What is Wassail and what has it to do with Yuletide? Its history goes back to the pre-existence of the Church of England, or of the Anglo-Saxons. There we see the great Yule log burning in the midst of the feasting halls of warrior-kings, with earls and thanes and lords assembled around him for the great wintry feast. Believe it or not, it was very much in such an environment that the Church of England was established, or at least where their secular leadership chose to follow not some mortal and short-lived warrior-king elected by the nobility of one Anglo-Saxon kingdom or another but chose instead to follow the immortal King of kings, and Lord of lords, who came to earth as a little Child, a little Child Whose coming we also celebrate today. The Venerable Bede, that first Church of England historiographer, relates an incident when St. Paulinus of York presented the Gospel to the witan, or counsel, of King Edwin of Northumbria, at which point a pagan priest, Coifi, offered the following rationale for hearing more about Christianity and even a rationale for accepting it. He is recorded to have advised King Edwin in these words:

Your majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thanes and counselors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.[1]

In this sense, my friends, Christianity broke in as suddenly on the people of England by way of the ministry of apostolic visitors, missionaries we would call them, as it did upon the people of Jerusalem who had awaited the Messiah for so long. It broke in on a cold and wintry world, devoid of true spiritual life, so devoid that even the spiritual leaders were ready and willing to accept something better than they could offer to those who turned to them for help. Not all pagan priests were so ready to relinquish their authority as was the priest Coifi, just as not all of the Jewish priests and pharisees were so ready and willing to relinquish their authority when Christ came – but a new spiritual power had broken suddenly in on the world – and it is this that we celebrate today, it is this that we hail today.

               The Anglo-Saxon world had a word for this hailing and it is part of our Yuletide tradition, in language if not in fact, when we drink Wassail – or anytime we have some spicey hot cider from Halloween through the New Year. This spiced drink is called and named after the very act of drinking it when one calls out, “Wassail!” “Well Hail!” or “Hail – Be Well!” or “Good health!” as we might say it today. In its very act and the warmth that it gives as you drink it, it signifies both a glad heart and the desire to share and continue that gladness with others in the form of a blessing. In this sense, we might say that it is “sacramental” – it is an outward sign, a tangible thing, that communicates symbolically something that it is physically and tangibly. It is a warm, gladdening, drink and it communicates, to the inner heart, a warm, gladdening, feeling. Such is hot cider. Such is hot chocolate. Such is wine which maketh glad the heart of man. We might say, in a secular sense, Wassail communicates the very “cheers” sort of cheering that we need psychologically during the dreary days of winter and, in that sense, the secular world gets it, understands the hot chocolate, and the wine, and the holiday lights, and all that psychological levity that is brought with such holiday traditions. We raise our glass and say, “Cheers” and we are cheery, and bully for us as humanity.

Dorothy Sayers gets to the heart of secular holiday-isms in some of her funnier writings where she describes secular Advent as “ADVERTISEMENT, a season of solemn preparation leading up to the Birth of Science [or] (Winter Solstice) . . .” “Advertisement” is a play on words, and she means here “Advent Season” which has become the season of “Advertisement” under secularism, and “Birth of Science” playing on the idea of the Birth of our Saviour. She again pokes fun at the secular world, “Scarcely” she writes, “is Wishmas over, with all its factitious heartiness and family friction, before bills and income-tax demands comes in.” What is “Wishmas”? Or as it is called in the show Seinfeld, “Festivus” a non-sectarian, not Hanukah not Christmas, just Festivus, winter solstice celebration. If you haven’t guessed, she describes it as “[A] festival, which has almost everywhere superseded the superstitious commemoration of Christmas, [which] is celebrated by domestic agglomerations and by the exchange of cards, bearing wishes for the recipients’ material prosperity, and frequently adorned with ice, snow, holly, and other Polar symbols.”

And this secular, post-Christian society understands very well that that “Wishmas,” that “Festivus” is the best that one could hope for in secular, post-Christian society, just as pagan Yuletide with its bright blazing, warm, hearth could only bring cheer and psychological levity to people in spiritual darkness under paganism. But with Christ another reality enters in, immortal life, immortal cheer, true Wassail and not false wassail, infinite Wassail not finite wassail, living Wassail not dead wassail. True good health and wishes for health and happiness, after all, only has meaning in Christ who has conquered death. I should add, that this very word “Wassail” is not so very far from our own word “Salvation.” If I am Italian, I do not say “cheers” when I lift an adult beverage on high but “Salut!” We might render that “salute”, but it is clearly connected to the Latin “Salve” meaning, “Salute” as in a greeting, yes, but also “Be Well” and “Be Safe” and “Be Saved.” Yet any action of mine that says to you, “my friend, Be Well,” again, has no permanence in the face of mortality, unless it be “Salve” “Salvation” in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Simeon’s declaration, “Lord, Now Lettest Thou Thy Servant Depart in Peace”  was personally important because it meant that he could die, die in peace knowing that the Saviour of the World had come, but for those from other nations who came to Christ “A Light to Lighten the Gentiles” was the key phrase of his declaration. And that notion, I might add, is encapsulated in the words of the Evening Office Hymn which parallels the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon. That office hymn, for example, was rendered by John Keble in these words, “Hail, gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured, Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest, Holiest of Holies, Jesus Christ our Lord!” There we have that word, “Hail.” The Irish Book of Common Prayer of 1926 renders the Office Hymn this way, “O CHEERING Light of the pure glory born: Of the Eternal Father of all lights! O Jesu Christ Son of the Blessed God: Light to the path of those who seek their home!” Cheering, Hailing, Jesus as the Light of the World is the true meaning of Christmas.

This is what the pagan Anglo-Saxons learned at the coming of Christ to their island home – that their Yule log, however bright, had no power against the cold, wintry, demonic forces that howled outside, or the ones that were coming at the end of life, without that “Light to enlighten the gentiles”; that their calling out “Wassail!” in their great halls had no permanence apart from Life and Health in Christ Jesus. It is what we need to learn again and again. No Holiday lights on houses, no Christmas parades or parties, no lights on fir and pine trees, can bring us up out of our winter depression if they are not signs and symbols of a greater light, truly “God from God, Light from Light, Very God of Very God.” And, as the Nation of Israel found, as Anna and Simeon found, that was something worth waiting for. Now that it’s here, however, that’s something worth celebrating.

And we do celebrate, moving forward now to the Holy Eucharist, in which we raise bread and wine on high and laud the Light of light, and Life-giver, Jesus Christ. It is no wonder then, that in the English Mass the Holy Sacrament of the Altar is greeted by the priest with these words: “Hail for evermore, most holy Flesh of Christ: to me before all & above all the highest sweetness. May the body of our Lord Jesus Christ be to me, a sinner, the way & the life. Hail for evermore, heavenly Drink, to me before all & above all the highest sweetness. May the Body & Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ be to me, a sinner, an everlasting remedy unto eternal life.” Whether you realized it or not, the true Wassail is offered here, in a few minutes, during the bleak midwinter, in this great hall of the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

[1] Robert Boenig, trans., Anglo-Saxon Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000), 5-6.


Advent 4 – Give us this Day our Daily Bread

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

The part of the Lord’s prayer which we are covering today is “Give us this day our daily bread” which clearly matches up with our Scriptural text. “Be careful for nothing” obviously means “be full of care” for nothing, or don’t be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. The text asks of us today, just before Christmas, what do we really need? The kids “need” more toys, the parents “need” more time. So much to do. So little time. This year, for Thanksgiving, the Geromels acquiesced to Simeon’s request for Pizza instead of Turkey. Tradition of course, called for Turkey. But what was it that we needed in order to give thanks? Just Daily Bread. Compared to plain old bread, pizza is pretty stupendous, but plain old bread would have been enough with which to give thanks on Thanksgiving, to the great delight of turkeys everywhere and, I guess, vegans everywhere.

Thomas Aquinas says that in this petition, which is the first one that deals not with spiritual goods but temporal goods, we learn to avoid five sins. 1. Inordinate ambition, that is a different state of life than the one that we have. 2. Acquiring temporal goods at the expense of others. 3. “Unnecessary Solicitude.” Wanting more than we need. This is the sin of hoarding and miserliness. 4. “Inordinate Veracity.” He says, “There are those who in one day would consume what would be enough for many days. Such pray not for bread for one day, but for ten days. And because they spend too much, it happens that they spend all their substance.” 5. “Ingratitude” and relying on ourselves, our skills, our abilities, our resources, to win us our daily bread.

In this way, we can see John Baptist as an example of reliance on God for his daily bread. He was asked by the Priests and Levites, “Who art thou?” He did not have inordinate ambition; he did not claim to be the Messiah. He did not even claim the status of Elijah, which Christ himself later said John the Baptist was, the second coming of Elijah. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, eating locusts and wild honey. He took what God gave to him in the wilderness, not even demanding of others to be paid for his services as a preacher and baptizer. The priests and the Levites did, as ministers today do, live off of their ministrations in the Temple and this is always a source of temptation, but John Baptist living off the land could avoid those temptations to acquire temporal goods at the expense of others. In this way, we can see that he also avoided the other temptations.

To all of this must be added, if we would truly receive Daily Bread, the gift of Gratitude which is spoken of in our Epistle lesson: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice.” The Norwegian Bishop Erik Pontoppidan’s Catechism responds to the question as to what Give us this day our daily bread means in these words, “God gives indeed without our prayer even to the wicked also their daily bread; but we pray in this Petition that He would make us sensible of His benefits, and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” He responds to the question as to what daily bread is, saying, “All things that pertain to the wants and the support of this present life; such as food, raiment, money, goods, house and land, and other property; a believing spouse and good children; trustworthy servants and faithful magistrates; favorable seasons, peace and health; education and honor; true friends, good neighbors, and the like.”

First, we might think, well, I don’t need all of those things. I’m an American. I can “hack it out in the wilderness with my own two hands” like my forefathers. Second, we might think, well I don’t have any servants and I’m a little offended by the notion of servants. But you do, in a strange sort of way. In one way we have “servants” by abstraction whenever we have somebody who regularly mows our lawn or cleans our house or does anything like that. In a sense, they become members of our household. We invite them into our midst and grant them access to see us in our private lives to a certain extent just as household servants would have been allowed to see us in the past. Because they are a bit like servants, we are required as Christians employers not to beat them over the heads with our bibles but to influence them for good, for holiness, and for salvation. In so far as they touch our lives and we theirs, we have life in common and common life should be lived in Christ. Martin Luther actually believed if you had a servant who refused to learn the Catechism you should fire them.

Second, we have servants anytime we go to a Burger King or stop by the Hardware Store and are waited on. In all of these things, these persons become a part of our daily bread, that which sustains our lives, and we should pray for them and be grateful for them. I don’t know about you but these days when I walk into a fast food restaurant and see that they actually have enough employees to open their doors, I’m grateful, because these goods and services are a part of our common lives, something we generally rely on to get through our day, and it becomes more of a hassle when they aren’t open or have reduced their hours. We pray, therefore, by extension for businesses to stay open at this time when we pray for our Daily Bread, just as we pray for Judges, and Law Enforcement, and Firemen, and City Engineers, and Utility Workers. We pray for the whole apparatus of an orderly society.

When we see things in this way, through the eyes of great instructors and catechists concerning the Lord’s Prayer, we begin to realize as we approach Christmas how much repentance we have to offer our Heavenly Father – the great Giver of all gifts. John the Baptist tells us that we are to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance or of penance. Fr. Leonard Goffine’s Devout Instructions (a book by a German Norbertine priest born in 1648 and ordained, incidentally, on the Advent Ember Saturday of 1667) asks us concerning our Gospel today, “How do we make straight the way of the Lord?” “By sincere penance” he says, “which consists not merely in going to confession, and making hollow resolutions, but in bringing forth fruits worthy of penance.” He says, “If we wish to bring forth fruits worthy of penance, we must endeavor to make amends for what is past, and use all possible means to avoid in future those sins to which we have been most given; we must love and serve God as much as and more than we before loved and served the world.”  

We have two aids to this task, as Thomas Aquinas points out, we have the daily bread of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Mass, and the daily bread of the Word of God, since man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. We pray for the continuance of these mystical gifts and strengtheners every time that we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” By extension then, we pray for good and godly Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, dispensers of God’s Bread – His Words, His Sacraments.

But Christmas, of course, provides us a really practical way to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. We offer each other gifts. So many gifts. Those gifts don’t put away the divine wrath for our sins, only Jesus’ blood does that. But there is something really important about gift giving not just to our friends, and family, and least among us, but for those who serve us in the apparatus of an orderly society. (Getting my son’s teacher a Christmas gift this year was a great reminder of this. I remember one year my mother left some Christmas cookies, resting precariously on some bags of garbage, for the garbage men as they picked up our household refuse.) All of these persons provide to us, indeed, we provide to each other, a certain measure and aspect of our daily bread (in the economic exchange of goods and services) and our thanks to them is a fulfilling of the same words that we offer our heavenly Father for the great gifts that he has given, does give, and, we have no doubt, will give to us in days and years to come. Let us pray. Our Father….


3rd Sunday in Advent – Thy Will be Done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The Third Sunday in Advent is a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, we wear Rose vestments – the one of two times a year that we wear them, if we’ve got ‘em. Our wearing of them is connected with the Introit for today, Gaudete, Latin for, “Rejoice.” It’s the word from which we get our word “Gaudy” as in Dorothy Sayers’ mystery novel, “Gaudy Nights,” from which I’ll quote in a moment. I said that it is paradoxical, and it is paradoxical because our Gospel lesson today is from St. Matthew, chapter 11, John the Baptist about to be Beheaded. Rejoicing connected with the notion of Death. Today we are covering the fourth part of our series on The Lord’s Prayer with, “Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” John the Baptist, and the Prophetic, is the theme for our Gospel lessons this week and next week. And in between we celebrate the Advent Ember Days, a time of prayer and preparation that Prophets would be produced in our time, men of vision, dispensers of Word and Sacrament, who proclaim “Thy Will be Done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

          Teaching people to rejoice in their salvation as well as teaching people to die to self so that they might live in Christ, and teaching people to say “[God’s] Will be Done” are all a part of the prophet’s task. It is a paradoxical task, a monumental task, an impossible task. But, with God, all things are possible. Hugh Latimer spoke of it at the time of the English Reformation, saying “. . . preaching of the gospel is one of God’s plough-works, and the preacher is one of God’s ploughmen. . . . For as the ploughman first setteth forth his plough, and then tilleth his land, and breaketh it in furrows, and sometimes ridgeth it up again; and at another time harroweth it and clotteth it, and sometime dungeth it and hedgeth it, diggeth it and weedeth it, purgeth and maketh it clean: so the . . . preacher, hath many diverse offices to do. He hath first a busy work to bring his parishioners to right faith, as Paul calleth it, and not a swerving faith; but to a faith that embraceth Christ, and trusteth to his merits; a lively faith, a justifying faith; a faith that maketh a man righteous, without respect of works . . . . He hath then a busy work, I say, to bring his flock to a right faith, and then to confirm them in the same faith: now casting them down with the law, and with the threatenings of God for sin; now ridging them up again with the gospel, and with the promises of God’s favour: now weeding them, by telling them their faults, and making them forsake sin; now clotting them, by breaking their stony hearts, and by making them supplehearted, and making them to have hearts of flesh.” So far Latimer on the Prophet’s task, the preaching task, and the paradoxical task that it is.

          There is a paradox to it all to be sure. Christ says to us today, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in Kings’ houses.” No John the Baptist, preached against King Herod in a hair shirt, not a shirt of silk. But does the shirt matter? Today I wear rose-colored silk, but yet I preach, as Latimer himself preached to the King of England, laying it all on the line, line by line, until he too, like John the Baptist, was to receive the crown of martyrdom at the hands of Mary Tudor. There is compromise, yes, in the spiritual realm against which Latimer stood. The Puritans, having watched the Latimers of England die at the hands of Mary Tudor, returned from Geneva, and only saw compromise in the policies of Elizabeth the First. The Puritans would have preferred that all silk vestments and silk gowns be burned, but by doing so, they missed something of the point Christ was making in today’s Gospel Lesson. The test is, was it bad compromise? Can wearing a silk vestment be compromise so long as one preaches the gospel? In Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Nights, a college dean says, “We’ll toddle along like two good little people and hear the University Sermon. I can’t think of anything more soothingly normal and academic than that.” And the commentary follows: “Yes; the Dean was right; here was the great Anglican compromise at its most soothing and ceremonial. The solemn procession of doctors in hood and habit; the Vice-Chancellor bowing to the preacher, and the beadles tripping before them; the throng of black gowns and the decorous gaiety of the summer-frocked wives of dons; the hymn and the bidding prayer; the gowned and hooded preacher austere in cassock and bands; the quiet discourse delivered in a thin, clear, scholarly voice, and dealing gently with the relations of Christian philosophy to atomic physics. Here were the Universities and the Church of England kissing one another in righteousness and peace, like angels in a Botticelli Nativity: very exquisitely robed, very cheerful in a serious kind of way, a little mannered, a little conscious of their fine mutual courtesy. Here, without heat, they could discuss their common problem, agreeing pleasantly or pleasantly agreeing to differ.” “Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in Kings’ houses.” Latimer, no doubt, and others of his sort, like Soren Kierkegaard who railed against the silk gowns of the fancy preachers of Denmark, would prefer hair shirts on all preachers. And yet, is Compromise always such a dirty word? The difference, I should say, is whether it is righteous and peaceful compromise or unrighteous and ridiculous compromise.      

          As I have said, in the reality of the Christian life, both the preacher and prophet and those to whom he preaches and prophesies must both learn to die, die to self so that they might live to Christ and in Christ – this, beloved, is righteous and truly peaceful compromise, what we call, “godly union and concord”. This is the real test of a successful ministry and a successful pastoral relationship between priest and parish. It is not that the church has grown by leaps and bounds, but have the congregation and the one who preaches to that congregation learned to say more and more, “to live is Christ and to die is gain”? Have they said more and more, “Thy will be done” rather than “my will be done”? Has the congregation and priest like husband and wife learned more and more to say to each other not “my will be done” but to say to each other “thy will be done”? “Thy will be done” in the business of the church, in the fellowship of the church, in the music of the church, in the worship of the church (without unrighteous and ridiculous compromise), in the buildings and grounds of the church. For a congregation and priest who have learned more and more to say, “Thy will be done” rather than “my will be done” will be a happy congregation and priest, just like a husband and wife who have learned to say the same thing in the daily rounds of what George Herbert called “drudgery Divine” – the little silly tasks that need to be done but when done in Christ – end in Christ – and in life in Christ forevermore.

          It is an odd thing to speak of the Stations of the Cross during Advent, but given that we are watching John the Baptist bear his cross, it is not at all unfitting, howsoever unusual. In one version of the Stations of the Cross, in Everyman’s Way of the Cross, Christ speaks: “In Pilate’s hands, My other self, I see my Father’s will. Though Pilate is unjust, he is the lawful governor and he has power over me. And so the Son of God obeys the son of man. If I can bow to Pilate’s rule because this is My Father’s will, can you refuse obedience to those whom I place over you?” Man replies, “My Jesus, Lord, obedience cost You Your life. For me it costs an act of will – no more – and yet how hard it is for me to bend. Remove the blinders from my eyes that I may see that it is You Whom I obey in all who govern me. Lord, it is You.” This is not an easy teaching, especially for Americans with their strong sense of egalitarianism. So the newer version of this Stations of the Cross changes, “can you refuse obedience to those whom I place over you” to “can you also submit, even in the face of injustice?”

          This idea that God orders things in heaven and on earth according to governing authority is one that tests our will! Especially Americans, especially as sinful human beings, especially as Americans who are sinful human beings. The Book of Homilies provides an “Exhortation concerning Good Order, and obeying Rulers and Magistrates” which uses the following classic medieval understanding of Law and Order. “Almighty GOD hath created and appointed all things in heaven, earth, and waters, in a most excellent and perfect order. In Heaven, he hath appointed distinct and several orders and states of Archangels and Angels. In earth he hath assigned and appointed Kings, Princes, with other governours under them, in all good and necessary order. The water above is kept, and raineth down in due time and season. The Sun, Moon, Stars, Rainbow, Thunder, Lightning, Clouds, and all Birds of the air, do keep their order. The Earth, Trees, Seeds, Plants, Herbs, Corn, Grass, and all manner of Beasts keep themselves in order: all the parts of the whole year, as Winter, Summer, Months, Nights and Days, continue in their order . . .[it talks about how man, too, is fearfully and wonderfully made in an orderly way] so that in all things is to be lauded and praised the goodly order of GOD, without the which no house, no City, no Commonwealth can continue and endure, or last. For where there is no right order, there reigneth all abuse, carnal liberty, enormity, sin, and Babylonical confusion.” And, I would say, none of these things can be enjoyed by us unless we say “Thy Will” not “My Will” be done “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”

          Everyman’s Way of the Cross goes on, Christ speaking: “This cross, this chunk of tree, is what My Father chose for me. The crosses you must bear are largely products of your daily life. And yet My Father chose them, too, for you. Receive them from His hands. Take heart, My other self, I will not let your burdens grow one ounce too heavy for your strength.” Man replies: “My Jesus, Lord, I take my daily cross. I welcome the monotony that often marks my day, discomforts of all kinds, the summer’s heat, the winter’s cold, my disappointments, tensions, setbacks, cares. Remind me often that in carrying my cross, I carry Yours with You. And though I bear a sliver only of your cross, You carry all of mine, except a sliver in return.” On this Gaudete Sunday (this Gaudy Sunday as I stand here ostentatiously in Rose-colored, silk, vestments) we can Rejoice, knowing that Our Lord provides help, to die to self in the midst of drudgery divine, and grace to say, “Thy will be done.”

           Picking up then with our Office of Instruction, our Catechism, I would quote to you the following. “Know this; that you are not able to do these things of yourself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which you must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.What is the prayer that our Lord taught us to pray?” ________ “Let us pray, as our Saviour Christ hath taught us, and say, “Our Father . . .”


Second Sunday in Advent – “Thy Kingdom Come”

This week, as I was in Michigan, aware of current events, “what was trending” in Oxford, Michigan, at a high school, of course I was saddened, but my mind was taken back immediately to the many happy youth retreats that I attended at a retreat center in Oxford, Michigan, when I was in elementary and middle school. At that time, we would gather up young people from my parents’ suburban Episcopal Church, with you people from the north side of Flint, brought in by a Captain of the Church Army. There and then was a meeting of suburban and inner city youth learning about Christ and His Church. Young people from unsafe neighborhoods coming to a place of safety to receive the preaching of the Gospel. I was reminded of how my own aunt was murdered in an English as a Second Language school in Binghamton, New York, having immigrated from China. China we don’t consider so very safe. America we consider safer. And yet she wasn’t safer here. A couple of days later, I was standing in line with a lady at Big Lots in Flint, Michigan and we were chatting about the recent high school shooting. She said that this always seems to happen at Christmas and then started talking about an event just north of there in Birch Run. I didn’t recall the actual incident but when I asked my mother about that event, she reminded me that it was a fellow who had killed himself in public, during quarantine, in a Walmart parking lot and that my foster brother’s own daughter had witnessed this tragic event, in “real time.” Yes, she saw a man take his own life in a Walmart parking lot. How did I forget this? It was in the middle of quarantine and nothing seemed to surprise or shock or, as it happens, stick in one’s mind over and against another event.

          I want to speak today about “safe spaces” and this in the context of our lessons for today and the third part of our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come.” There is a lot of discussion and concern about “safe spaces” right now. It too is “trending”. But it is nothing new. There is an innate desire in man to be safe. We can name event after event in history where man has attempted to make for himself a “safe space” for his own psychological or physical well-being. One difficulty is that it cannot be done easily without making someone else unsafe. For example, we know that Nazi Germany felt that a safe space required containment (ultimately extermination) of certain folks. Others point to Japanese American internment camps as the same idea. Safe settlers meant aboriginal tribes on reservations and whole slew of other difficulties. Today’s “safe spacers” are not yet aware, or don’t care, that one kind of safe space means something unsafe for another person. The shooting this past week is a great example. Armed policemen and metal detectors on the way into school make some feel safe, but others “feel” unsafe, if police officers and metal detectors trigger them. The most obvious issue is that of transgender bathrooms and those “safe spaces” in locker rooms and restrooms appears to come at the expense of others’ safe spaces, i.e. locker rooms and bathrooms that are for one natural sex or another. The bulletin for this Sunday at an Episcopal Church in New York City reads, “Everybody needs a place. We invite you to make this place yours.” This is the notion of safe space, that a Church should be a safe space. It goes on with carefully worded “What we are for” and “What we are against” and “What we value.” The difficulty we immediately perceive in this bulletin is that calling out just some of the sins, the politically incorrect sins, as this write up does, such as “Claiming to have all the answers. Elitism and exclusivism . . . Bigotry for any reason. Authoritarianism. Indifference to injustice and suffering. Certitude in the face of ambiguity and superficial answers to hard questions” is to place some sins as worse than another. Just as they might claim that Fundamentalists place certain sexual sins above others, so they have placed some sins, sins of injustice and insensitivity, above others. A safe space cannot, in fact, have any sin in it. A safe space, in fact, cannot have us in it. For, as history shows us, once a human being is in it, it isn’t a safe space anymore. This, beloved, is why we pray for that safe space which is Christ’s Kingdom. “Thy Kingdom Come.” We can’t do it on our own, because we are the problem.

          The story of the Jewish Religion is a seeking after safe space. This we can heartily agree with. Zionism, the remaking of the Nation of Israel, is just another natural step in that great saga of Jewish migration. But another part of seeking that safe space is “The Kingdom of God is within you”. Abraham sought a safe space to call on God. Moses did the same. We do when we gather on Sunday. It is a very basic principle of the spiritual life that we should seek to follow the voice of God, in hill and valley, thick forest and desolate plain. This will bring us psychologically, and sometimes geographically, through many adventures. The people of Israel rebuilt their temple several times and allied themselves many times with people so that they could maintain a certain amount of freedom. Yet even here, in this Kingdom of God is within you at all times and in all places (not in some geographic local that is safe from persecution at this particular moment), this principle is still fraught with problems. I recall a woman I ministered to in hospice. Her mother had been taken with various holiness movements or revivals and used to spend hours laying on the ground in religious ecstasy seeking that Kingdom of God, that safe space. But according to the principle that we have already outlined, the result was that her daughter felt unsafe left at home as a child. Her mother then came home and told her lipstick was sinful. This maintained a safe space for mom – a holy home, a Christlike home, a biblical home, as she no doubt thought of it – but at the expense of inculcating the freedom of the Gospel, and imparting that to her daughter. Her daughter in fact was so nervous to have children of her own that she waited years after having been honorably wed to a good man before feeling it was a safe thing to do. Something was broken there.

          Bishop Alexander Jolly, the early 19th Century Scottish Episcopal bishop, remarked on this Sunday’s lessons and on the limitations of this “kingdom of God is within you” concept (which he referred to as the internal, rather than external, Advent. An internal coming of Christ, rather than his glorious external coming at His Second Advent). He wrote: “This internal Advent or coming of Christ is to be distinguished, and may very easily be so, from the dangerous pretences of enthusiasm [that is what we would we call charismatic tendencies today], and those unaccountable internal feelings and fancied breathings of the Spirit, which may very dangerously mislead those who wait for them and are guided by them; following often a false and fleeting vapour . . . and turning away by its delusion from the true and steady light of God’s sure word, which is an infallible lamp to our paths in the dark night of this life. To it we shall do well to take constant heed, till the day dawn, and the true day-star arise in our hearts. The Church is the candlestick upon which this light is placed – the pillar it is, and ground of the truth.” That we can quote as commentary on our Collect and Epistle today.

It isn’t that we aren’t given moments of peace. Just crawl up in your parents’ bed again, or sit quietly in an empty church, or soak up the moments after receiving holy communion. God will give you the safe spaces that you need, for just a moment. But extend that for even a millisecond longer than you should or a millisecond longer than God would allow and you have made what is a safe space for you a selfish space for you and an unsafe space for someone else. Thus we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” and pray for the moments of peace and safety we need, without infringing on another’s peace and safety, till peace and safety come forevermore.

Let me quote a moment, and extensively from Francis Hall’s Dogmatic Theology, and it will ultimately give us some insight about our Gospel lesson today and the portion of the Lord’s Prayer we are studying today: “The kingdom came with power on the day of Pentecost which followed the King’s ascension into heaven. Its full triumph was indeed to be delayed for many weary ages of waiting; but when the apostles were clothed with power from on high, the earthly and sacramental machinery of the kingdom began to operate for the incorporation of penitent souls into the kingdom, for their regeneration and for their sanctification. The Church became the meeting point between the King and his faithful subjects, and to refuse to hear the Church became equivalent to a refusal to hear Him. To the Church was given the keys of the kingdom and the power of binding and loosing. Her precepts are precepts of the kingdom and her ministers are Christ’s ministers in the earthly administration of His kingly office. But the kingdom is spiritual and the Church may not use coercive jurisdiction or carnal methods of government. The kingdom is to be extended by persuasion, and not until the second coming of Christ Himself may any other than spiritual means of discipline be employed. Excommunication, or exclusion from the spiritual privileges of the kingdom in this world, is the extremest means which she may rightly employ. But within her appointed sphere, her authority is the authority of the King, and her administrations are those of His kingdom. The Church is not the kingdom, but she is charged with its earthly administration.

          “But in its fullest actualization the kingdom is still to come – an eschatological mystery to be revealed at the end of days. Only then will all alien elements be excluded and all hostile forces be put down. And only then will the reign of God, through Jesus Christ, attain its destined perfect triumph in righteousness forever. The day of that coming cannot be known beforehand. It is indeed heralded by signs, but these appear in every age; and they declare, not the moment of the consummation, but the divinely controlled events towards the inevitable end. As we have seen, this is the true meaning of the signs. They are designed to form our minds in readiness for the second advent, and to enable us to see that it is indeed approaching. When they are otherwise regarded, and when men are distracted from the duties of every-day life by seeking to gain more precise information from them, their meaning is misconceived, and many spiritual evils result. It is not good for us to know, or to seek to know, “the day and the hour.” We are always to watch, which means that we are always to be living in such wise as to be ready; and we are always to pray, “Thy kingdom come.””[1] Let us pray.  

[1] Hall, Dogmatic Theology: Volume VI, The Incarnation, 302-03.


“Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”

Today, we come to the First Sunday of Advent and the second part of our series on the Lord’s Prayer. We are covering today the first petition, “Hallowed be thy Name.” How is it a petition? It sounds like a declaration – “holy be Your Name!” And it is a declaration and, in being so, it is also a prayer. St. Thomas Aquinas says that in this first petition “we ask that God’s name be manifested and declared in us.” I would say, we petition for that Name to be holy. And we ask for it for spiritual battle. We believe and confess it. We declare “on earth as it is heaven”. The Name is Holy in Heaven, so it should be on earth. St. Thomas continues: “Thus said Our Lord: ‘In My name they shall cast out devils, they shall speak new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.’”

In fact, if you take “Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name” you can match it up quite easily with the first two or three Commandments. “Our Father” declares that there is only One God, as we have only One Father in heaven. The fact that He is in heaven indicates that we are not to worship any idols, any “graven images”. And “Hallowed be Thy Name” matches up with “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in Vain.” Both of these “Hallowed be Thy Name” and not taking the Lord’s Name in vain refer us back to the idea of Baptism, whereby we receive the Name of the Holy Trinity. Now usually, when you discuss the idea of not taking God’s Name in Vain, you talk about not swearing an oath falsely or not cursing and blaspheming. But it does refer to not receiving the Name in Baptism in vain, and this goes back to Judaism. “Not only did the Rabbis believe in this perfect holiness of God, but they insisted that it was the paramount duty of the Jew to guard it from profanation by discreditable conduct on his part. The House of Israel, as the chosen people of God, were the guardians of his reputation in the world. By worthy actions they brought credit upon Him and ‘sanctified his name.’ Base conduct, on the other hand, had the effect of causing Chillul Hashem (profanation of the Name).”

Baptism, in fact, shows up in our Collect and Epistle today. “Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light . . .” This we do in the first instance at Holy Baptism, being translated from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light. In our Epistle, we are given some points of the Law and told to “cast off the works of darkness, and . . . put on the armour of light.” And “put . . . on the Lord Jesus Christ”. This we clearly do in Holy Baptism. So Luther tells us, “God’s name was given to us when we became Christians at Baptism, and so we are called children of God and enjoy the sacraments, . . . So we should realize that we are under the great necessity of duly honoring his name and keeping it holy and sacred, regarding it as the greatest treasure and most sacred thing we have, and praying as good children, that his name, which is already holy in heaven, may also be kept holy on earth by us and all the world.”

But let us return to the idea that it is a battle cry. We have already spoken of the armour of light, let us speak of other things concerning battle. About not taking the Lord’s Name in vain, Aquinas says the Name of God may be taken for six purposes. “First, to confirm something that is said, as in an oath. In this we show God alone is the first Truth . . .” “The second purpose is that of sanctification. Thus, Baptism sanctifies . . .” “The third purpose is the expulsion of our adversary; hence, before Baptism we renounce the devil.” Are you starting to see how this is a matter of spiritual battle? “Fourthly, God’s name is taken in order to confess it.” “Fifthly, it is taken for our defense: ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the just runneth to it and shall be exalted.’ ‘In My name they shall cast out devils.’ ‘There is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby they must be saved.” “Lastly, it is taken in order to make our works complete.’ As in “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Here we understand better that “Hallowed be Thy Name” is a battle cry and when we utter those words faithfully in the Lord’s Prayer devils shudder and shrink away.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we see our Lord about to take Jerusalem by force, by the force of Love, rather than by the force of Arms. He rides on in majesty and a battle cry is shaking the walls of Jerusalem. “Hosanna in the highest” “Hosanna” is a tough word to translate being, actually, both a prayer and a declaration. “Save, I beseech thee” is one way to interpret it or “Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” as in Blessed be he that comes in the name of the Father, and this can be understood as a declaration, just as in the idea of “Hallowed be Thy Name.” But it becomes a triumphant cry as Jesus marches into Jerusalem and then cleans up the Temple.  

The Name has an interesting role to play in the Temple, incidentally. On the Day of Atonement, in the Temple, the Name was declared by the High Priest. “And when the priests and the people that stood in the Court heard the glorious and revered Name pronounced freely out of the mouth of the High Priest, in holiness and purity, they knelt and prostrated themselves, falling on their faces, and exclaiming: Blessed be His glorious, sovereign Name for ever and ever” But this did not last. As Malachi indicates, the priesthood of Aaron diminished in moral uprightness and as the Talmud declared, ‘At first the High Priest used to proclaim the Name in a loud voice; but when dissolute men multiplied, he proclaimed it in a low tone.” How sad. But in the Gospel today we see Jesus the High Priest arrive to take his place and to proclaim the Name as holy on earth as in heaven, to proclaim the Name as holy at the time of Crucifixion, at the ultimate Day of Atonement, and this hallowing of the Name of Jesus is done by the multitudes in a loud voice.

You know, on a practical note, I was watching an interview of a Finnish bishop, who, along with a Finnish member of Parliament, is on trial for hate crimes for writing pamphlets proclaiming the biblical standards of marriage and proclaiming the destructive nature of other sorts of intimate relationships. He said two things that struck me as Finland is turning on Christians by using legislation to prosecute them that is in place already in our country and many others. The first is that we must continue to catechize and to Preach the Gospel, he said both of those things because both of those things go together (catechizing and preaching), and we must do so no matter what the cost. The second has to do with flags. Now in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, like England and Scotland, the flags are all flags with a Cross, so what I believe I heard him say has context. He said that you can’t fly the flag of Christianity and a certain multi-colored flag. (Not that you can’t have diverse religions if the flag has a cross or we can’t love people who fly rainbow flags.) There are many Christians who are trying to wave both. Listen to Luther: “Now, the name of God is profaned by us either in words or in deeds; everything we do on earth may be classified as word or deed, speech or act. In the first place, then, it is profaned when men preach, teach, and speak in God’s name anything that is false and deceptive, using his name to cloak lies and make them acceptable; this is the worst profanation and dishonor of the divine name.” He then goes on to name all those other sins that we might for our souls’ sakes do without. But the worst profanation falls on the heads of the leadership, especially in the false churches.

I know I’m hitting a lot of Christian classics today, but Jonathan Edwards in his popular work Religious Affections writes about the devil having a seven-pronged attack against true religion – 1. The “multitudes, under a notion of a pleasing acceptable service to [God]” offer what is “indeed above all things abominable to him.” 2. Thus they are deceived by the Devil as to the state of their souls, giving them “strong confidence in their eminent holiness, who are in God’s sight some of the vilest hypocrites.” 3. The Devil “obscures and deforms . . . by corrupt mixtures” religion in some saints and in others “dreadfully ensnares and confounds” their minds bringing “them in a wilderness out of which they can by no means extricate themselves.” 4. “Satan mightily encourages the hearts of open enemies of religion, and strengthens their hands, and fills them with weapons, and makes strong their fortresses; when, at the same time, religion and the church of God lie exposed to them, as a city without walls.” 5. “men work wickedness under a notion of doing God service, and so sin without restraint, yea with earnest forwardness and zeal, and with all their might.” 6. Satan “brings in even the friends of religion . . . to do the work of enemies, by destroying religion in a far more effectual manner than open enemies can do, under a notion of advancing it.” 7. “[T]he devil scatters the flock of Christ and set them one against another, and that with great heat of spirit, under a notion of zeal for God; and religion . . . driving each to great extremes, one on the right hand and the other on the left, according as he finds they are most inclined, or most easily moved and swayed, till the right path in the middle is almost wholly neglected. And in the midst of this confusion, the devil has great opportunity to advance his own interest, and make it strong in ways innumerable, and get the government of all into his own hands, and work his own will.” How very applicable today.

This is what we’re up against. But remember what we are learning from Erasmus in A Manual of a Christian Knight, like the people of Israel, we move forward with Aaron and Moses, through the wilderness. We might say, through all those confounding and entangling pieces of information that pop up on our phones and make it hard for us to think straight, those snares designed by Satan to confuse the saints. Aaron signifies prayer; Moses signifies knowledge, according to Erasmus. For this reason, I am catechizing on the Lord’s Prayer, and we are studying the Lord’s Prayer, gaining knowledge about it. When we know what we are praying, we pray better. So let us pray the Lord’s Prayer this week with greater knowledge and greater fervor knowing what it is that we pray and the great need we have to pray it. Let us say together. Our Father . . .

References: Everyman’s Talmud, pages 23-25. Edwards, Religious Affections, Author’s Preface.


Sunday Next Before Advent – “Our Father, Who art in Heaven” – Fr. Geromel

“The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them . . .”

We will begin a sermon series today on the Lord’s Prayer, matching this material up with our Epistles & Gospels thru the First Sunday after Epiphany.

The Lord’s Prayer is divided up into 6 or 7 parts or petitions, traditionally, and this will be covered generally according to that division. The first part is “Our Father, who art in heaven”. I’d like to begin with a word about prayer. Last week we talked about “unceasing prayer”. Andrew Murray said, “Intense and unceasing prayerfulness is the essential mark of the healthy spiritual life.” Prayer has two parts – like a sacrament – the outward and visible and the inward and spiritual. The outward and visible is what we are doing with our bodies. Murray again, “When God created man a living soul, that soul, as the seat of his personality and consciousness, was linked on the other side, through the body, with the outer visible world, and on the other side, through the spirit, with the unseen and the divine.” Thus, what we do with our bodies during prayer matters. Fr. Sabine Baring-Gould tells us, “Prayer should be offered with reverent postures of the body, for prayer is the offering of the whole man, body, soul, and spirit to God.” As with Sacraments, you can not have the inward and spiritual without the outward and visible. What is baptism without water? Or the Eucharist without bread and wine? Even if you are quietly praying in your mind, as you drive, and thus holding unceasing fellowship with God, your body will show signs of it – it is not bodiless prayer or an out of body experience! Thus the Catechism of St. Philaret says concerning this, “Since we have both soul and body, we ought to glorify God in our bodies, and in our souls, which are God’s . . .” when we pray.

Since unceasing fellowship through prayer is, in a sense, the aim of the Christian life – yes, that’s right, unceasing communion or fellowship with God is, in a sense, the aim of the Christian life – why do we say Our Father, rather than My Father. You know, when one of my sons comes to me and say “Daddy” I want this, what is meant is “My Daddy”. And are we not to call God “Abba” or “Daddy”? Why then do we in this prayer of all prayers, the one taught by Jesus Himself, say “Our” Father? This “Our” rather than “My” can be hinted at through our Epistle and Gospel lessons today. “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.” The movement of the Lord is not from general to particular salvation, but from particular to general salvation. From one particular man, Abraham, and later the Son of his seed, Jesus, to the more general possibility of communion and fellowship. Abraham had communion and fellowship with God and by this particular communion and fellowship (by Faith, we might say) came the “seed of the house of Israel” and from that seed the multitudes, the myriads upon myriads, from every nation and tribe and tongue. (This is why all sectarianism and all cults who hold to a more particular or limited salvation, that Pharisaical emphasis on “we, the chosen seed of Abraham,” are to be carefully observed and scrutinized to see if they have the fruit of the spirit at all, if not completely avoided utterly eschewed, shunned.) God is working from the particular man, Abraham, to the particular nation Israel, to the particular God-Man, Jesus, to his people “from all countries whither I had driven them” so that they, with Jesus (the perfect image of the Father) can say with one accord, communion and fellowship “Our Father.”

Fr. Baring-Gould says, “We call God Our Father, because we pray, not as separate individuals, but ‘as members one of another.’” And St. Philaret’s Catechism asks, “Must we say Our Father even when we pray alone? Certainly we must. Why so? Because Christian charity requires us to call upon God, and ask good things of him, for all our brethren, no less than for ourselves.” Likewise Nowell’s Catechism answers, “Every godly man may, (I grant) lawfully call God his own; But such ought the dear love among Christians to be, that every one should have regard to the common profit of all: For which cause in all this Prayer, nothing is privately asked, but all the petitions are made in the common name of all.” And so we have our answer. When my sons come to me and say “Daddy, I want a snack” they are doing well, when one son comes to me and says, “Daddy, we all want a snack” he does better, and when one son comes to me and says, “Daddy, I am not hungry, but my brother is, could you get him a snack?” he does best. In this way, “My Daddy” has not ceased to be “My Daddy” but “Our Daddy” is a more mature request, closer to the heart of our heavenly Father, whose will it is that his love and favor should be more generally spread abroad and less particularly confined to the needs of one or two persons in one or two nations. In this way, we can find Andrew Murray is saying to us today, “In true, unselfish prayer there is little thought of the personal need or happiness. If we would be delivered from the sin of limiting prayer, we much enlarge our hearts for the work of intercession. To pray constantly only for ourselves is a mark of failure in prayer. It is in intercession for others that our faith and love and perseverance will be stirred up and that the power of the Spirit will be found to equip us for bringing salvation to people.” Indeed, today we pray “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded.”

We see this wonderful intercessory prayer in today’s Gospel, when Jesus used a little catechism of his own and asked, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove [Philip] . . .” (Or to “test” Philip as the RSV has it). But Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, like the ushers at the Holy Eucharist, brought a lad forward with five barley loaves and two small fishes, just as the ushers bring forward bread and wine to the altar rail, and the acolyte then brings such to the priest. In this petition, this intercessory prayer and offering, the Apostles and Disciples, as would-be bishops, priests and deacons, become “friends of God”. They come to the God-made-man and petition him to feed the flock, and in doing so, since Jesus is the perfect image of the Father, these disciples say, with their bodies if not with their lips, “Our Father” and Jesus, having taken those offerings, gave thanks. In that, there is implied the reality of the Lord’s Prayer, a request from the Lord of all Creation for a blessing: “Barukh Attah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-Olam” “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe”. And here we have something of the essential sense, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

I would say this further: There are two senses in which God is our Father, one by repentance, the other by adoption. So, in our mass twice you will find the Lord’s Prayer said, once at the very beginning, where it ends at “deliver us from evil” – this being the penitential version. Traditionally this is said before the recitation of the Decalogue in the Book of Common Prayer. There we acknowledge that we have sinned against heaven and before earth and are no more worthy to be called sons of the most high. This is why at the Confiteor, from the old Medieval mass, said among the acolytes, the priest says, “I confess to God Almighty, to blessed Mary ever-virgin, to blessed Michael the Archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints” in heaven “and to you” on earth, that sins against the Commandments have been committed prior to the Holy Mass. But in this way, we are confessing before the whole company of heaven and earth that He is Our Father by repentance, the is the Daddy of the universe whom we have chiefly offended by our sins. The second time we say it, we say it with the long ending, which we will cover on our last Sunday, “For Thine is the Kingdom,” etc. This second time, just before receiving communion do so in a different way, by adoption, and I quote, “The ‘Our Father’ . . . is here repeated because by holy communion we become, in the fullest sense, children of God; it is moreover truly a daily bread, preserving us from temptation and evil.”[1]  

Finally, this word of exhortation from Fr. Dr. Martin Luther (in his larger catechism). “This we must know, that all our safety and protection consist in prayer alone.” And here I would add, and Luther would agree, in the Holy Eucharist we have combined prayer with bread and wine in a most gloriously powerful and digestible form acknowledging and confessing that God is our Father in heaven. “We are far too weak” he says, “to cope with the devil and all his might and his forces arrayed against us, trying to trample us under foot. Therefore we must carefully select the weapons with which the Christians ought to arm themselves in order to stand against the devil. What do you think has accomplished such great results in the past, parrying the counsels and plots of our enemies and checking their murderous and seditious designs by which the devil expected to crush us, and the Gospel as well, except that the prayers of a few godly men intervened like an iron wall on our side? . . . But by prayer alone we shall be a match both for them and for the devil, if we only persevere diligently and do not become slack. For whenever a good Christian prays, ‘Dear Father, thy will be done,’ God replies from on high, ‘Yes, dear child, it shall indeed be done in spite of the devil and all the world.’”[2] Let us pray.

Praised be God and blessed forever, who by His word has comforted, instructed, admonished and warned us. May his Holy Spirit confirm the word in our hearts, that we be not forgetful hearers, but daily increase in faith, hope, charity and patience to the end, and attain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.  

[1] Goffine’s Devout Instructions, 501.

[2] Luther’s Larger Catechism

Trinity 24, 2021 – Fr. Geromel – “For this cause . . . do not cease to pray . . .”

In today’s Epistle lesson, we are introduced to one of Paul’s fellow-laborers, Epaphras. He is mentioned one other times in the Book of Colossians and in the Book of Philemon, where he is described as a “fellow-prisoner” in Rome with Paul. Here we have a fellow who is always wrestling in prayer for the people committed to his charge and he was, according to Christian tradition, the first bishop of the Colossian church. I want to dwell on this theme of ceaseless prayer as we look at two saints remembered on November 14th, St. Gregory of Palamas and St. Lawrence O’Tool.

          St. Gregory Palamas is an Eastern saint born in the late 13th century, a bright student taken under the wing of the Emperor of Byzantium who chose to become a monk instead of a courtier like his father. After living in several different communities on the holy island of Mount Athos, he became the most prominent and well-known teacher of the unceasing prayer of the heart, known as Hesychasm. This is mostly associated today with the practice of the “Jesus Prayer,” a repetitive invocation directed at bringing the words said in the mind into the heart. Originally, the practice was likely taking the psalms which the desert monks in Egypt had memorized and saying them methodically, all 150 psalms every day, and directing those words of Scripture at the heart. In the West, as in the East, the practice of Hesychasm was practiced using prayer beads, or rosaries. Here the Pater Noster Beads were 150 Our Fathers that were prayed by lay associates of monasteries as the equivalent out in the world of the 150 psalms said by the monks in the cloister. The Most Holy Rosary takes the words of Scripture, a combination of the words said to Mary by Gabriel and the words said to her by Elizabeth and combining them into the Ave Maria, a meditation, we might say without ceasing, on the Incarnation of Our Lord, praying that the fruit that was in the womb of Mary, implant in our hearts.

          St. Gregory eventually came to Thessalonica due to threats and troubles from the Turks, where he became a priest and he was a good priest. When people asked him if he only worked on Sundays, he answered that he did, actually, only work on Sundays. The fact was that he was never seen by his parishioners Monday through Friday, so unceasing was his life of prayer. (And here he was, in my opinion, emulating the Desert Fathers of Egypt, because often they would spend their time out in the desert Monday thru Friday in prayer, and then come into the cities on Sunday to worship with the normal congregation.) But this life of prayer worked for him and his parishioners, because his preaching was very powerful on Sunday, no doubt because he had put so much prayer into it, so I suppose his congregation forgave him for only working on Sunday.

          In the West, St. Lawrence O’Tool combined the best of Celtic Monasticism in Ireland with the best of monasticism that he could find on the continent of Europe especially in France. Like St. Gregory of Palamas his connections with the political powers of the day made his turning to monasticism noteworthy. His father was a King, and his brother-in-law was the King of Leinster and St. Lawrence became the Abbot of Glendalough at age 26, just as St. Gregory Palamas was an Abbot by about the same age, a remarkably young age. At 32, in 1162 A.D., St. Lawrence was elected unanimously as the Archbishop of Dublin and served as the first non-Dane or non-Norwegian prelate in that city which had been established by the Vikings. He laid the foundation stone of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (now Christ Church) and invited Augustinian monks to Dublin and encouraged the use of Gregorian Chant – which effectively connected Irish Monasticism with Roman Monasticism. Nevertheless, he spent 40 days a year as a hermit in the cave used by St. Kevin of Glendalough.

          We can say that like a Rector in the Episcopal Church, St. Lawrence O’Tool got a month off a year, but unlike so many Rectors who spend their vacations at posh locations, we can imagine the Archbishop of Dublin, like a Celtic Monk or a Greek or Russian one, spending his month off in prayer where there was a nice cold floor for his bed and chilling cold brooks and lakes to bathe in. Indeed, we can jokingly say that while St. Gregory of Palamas perfected the art of only working on Sundays, St. Lawrence O’Tool worked hard all year looking forward to his month-long vacation at his mountain resort. I’m sure the fishing was great! No, in fact, like Epaphras, like Paul, I’m sure he was praying without ceasing.

          In the Western Church, the practice of praying without ceasing is through the liturgies of the hours, or canonical hours, seven times of prayer each day. While the Eastern Church has these as well, the tendency – as in the Book of Common Prayer tradition – is to combine some of these offices together and then the Eastern monks give themselves wholeheartedly, literally, to working on the Prayer of the Heart while doing the various labors that make up the life of an Eastern monk. In the Western Church, as I have said, the different practice is to punctuate the day, alternating between work and prayer, by having shorter offices of prayer interspersed. Again, St. Lawrence combined the method of the eremitic Gaelic tradition (so similar to that of the Desert Fathers and Byzantines and Russians) with the method of the Roman church, with its carefully prescribed orders with carefully prescribed rules and carefully and exactly followed rules or offices of prayer.

          Now just a couple years into being Archbishop, St. Lawrence faced a political dilemma, and the outworking of that would be to simultaneously complete the subjugation of the Irish church to the Roman discipline and to make the Irish Church Anglican, that is, to make the Irish Church subject to Rome by way of being subject to Canterbury and, thereby, part of Ecclesia Anglicana, the English Church. It played out like this: St. Lawrence’s brother-in-law King Diarmait of Leinster ran into trouble when a new High King of Ireland Rory or Roderick O’Connor replaced the King of Leinster’s ally in 1166. Diarmait was exiled (abducting the new High King’s wife didn’t help in this) and he went to the court of Henry II of England for help. The result was the invasion of Ireland by the Norman-Welshman, Strongbow, and his gang of Norman knights. Like William the Conqueror a century earlier a group of Normans, Welsh and Flemish adventurers entered in to try to help King Diarmait regain his throne and these knight-mercenaries and Welsh bowmen gained the old Norse towns of Wexford, Waterford and Dublin in the bargain. Strongbow also got King Diarmait’s daughter (that is St. Lawrence’s niece) as a wife in the bargain as well. But Strongbow got a little too big for his britches and thought he could go from being the vassal of Henry II to being king in his own right, so Henry II came over, even more like his grandfather William the Conqueror, to establish law and order, Norman style, and like William the Conqueror with the Pope’s blessing, since Henry was going to furthermore bring the Irish Church in line with the Roman and Anglo-Norman Church at the Synod of Cashel.

          In 1171, the good Archbishop went to see Henry II who was at Canterbury at the time and, in that very same place where St. Thomas A Beckett was brutally martyred, St. Lawrence was attacked when about to go say mass by a maniac who figured he would make St. Lawrence into a new St. Thomas. He was struck down and appeared dead or mortally wounded, but like our Gospel lesson today, he was not dead but sleeping a moment (or was he actually dead?) and like St. Paul who when stoned and thought dead (or was he?) just got up and went back into the city. Again, like the Gospel lesson today, when St. Lawrence was roused up from what appeared mortal wounds, he asked for some water, blessed it, washed his wounds and the flow of blood was stopped and then he went on to offer the unbloodied sacrifice of the mass.

Later, after going to Rome for the Third Lateran Council, he returned to Dublin. He wasn’t back there long as the Papal Legate when he needed to find Henry II again since there was some strain between Henry II and the High King of Ireland, Roderic O’Connor. Despite O’Connor being the enemy of Lawrence’s clan, he followed Henry II to Normandy to effect this reconciliation and died there at an Augustinian Monastery in Eu in 1180. Later, his heart was returned to Christ Church, Dublin, where it remained and continued to be a treasured relic by the established Anglican Church of Ireland despite the Reformation’s hatred of relics. In 2012, that relic was stolen from the Cathedral and recovered in 2018 and restored to Christ Church Dublin by a special evensong ceremony by Anglican Archbishop Michael Jackson.

          Like Paul and Epaphras, St. Gregory of Palamas and St. Lawrence O’Tool knew that the ministry was an arduous task requiring ceaseless prayer, despite folks, I’m sure, sometimes thinking they only worked on Sundays! Now, during their Sabbath rest with Jesus, they continue ceaselessly to pray alongside Paul and Epaphras in heaven. This ceaseless prayer is something, whether by saying the daily office, or practicing the Rosary, or the Jesus Prayer, we should all endeavor to follow today. By it the Church is built up, the Church’s enemies kept at bay, and the salvation of souls is won. “For this cause . . . do not cease to pray . . . giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the Saints in light.”

Let us pray.

O Glorious and almighty God, in Whom all the spirits of the blessed place the confidence of their hope; grant to us that, by Thy help, we may be able ever to serve Thee with a pure mind; Through …[1]

[1] Sarum Breviary, A.D. 1085. Chain of Prayer Across the Ages, 170.


Trinity 23, 2021 – Fr. Geromel

Behold and identify. The works which men do are they for mammon or for God? If they are for mammon do they still return to the glory of God? Christ beheld a coin and it belonged to Caesar because it had Caesar’s image upon it and Christ returned it to Caesar. But whose was it in the end? Caesar already had his reward. He was ruler of the Roman world. Christ bided his time and, behold, all things came to him through the Cross. Caesar ruled the world at the time of Christ. But Christ shall rule the world to come. Caesar’s gold perished with him. The gold Christ inherited from the Father is building up the heavenly Jerusalem. Are we citizens of heaven or of earth? Both. And yet, the gold we return to the government returns to us because we already own it in the Lord Jesus.

Do you feel that your tax money is spoilt by the government? In a sense, it is spoilt already when we spend it on food, raiment, televisions, automobiles, all of which will corrupt, decay, and be rendered useless by the passage of time. Do you eat today? Good. Then give the government its due. If you do not eat today, then we might have cause to wonder what the government was doing with our money. Citizenship is a matter of to whom we belong, not to whom we pay money. We pay money to all sorts of people to whom we certainly do not belong. The government renders us a service because it has an obligation to us due to our payment of taxes. Christ renders us a service out of love, not because we pay Him money. He doesn’t need money. He made the material out of which it is made. He can give it to whomsoever he desires. And as it stands, He desires that we give some to government.

These are simple enough matters. But the matter of simplicity ends when we consider that we are as perishable as the money. More so, because we still have coins which Caesar minted. He minted and he is dead. We spend and then we die. But because all things belong to Christ, he returns to us what is our due – a body in which to worship him and enjoy him forever. This we are owed not by our own merits but because of something Christ owes to himself – worship. That is not simple. That is something we shall marvel at for ages to come in a life of perfect worship.

What then do we owe to the Church? What is the Church’s? It is even those things which have the Church’s mark upon them – which bears the Church’s image. Worship items in ancient Israel were inscribed with the words, “Holy to Jehovah”. We in the New Covenant are worship items, baptized and sanctified through use. When we bless a thurible, vestments, icons, statues, rosaries, there are two ways that we bless. 1st we exorcise it and then consecrate it, set it aside and don’t use it for anything else. 2nd we bless it through using it in the sanctuary of the Lord. Those who have been baptized but never again enter the Church have been blessed in the 1st sense but not by in the 2nd, they aren’t darkening the door of the sanctuary they were consecrated to serve and worship in. Ye baptized who stand here today are blessed by both.

Now, who then is blessed when we present our tithes and offerings to the Lord? Money sits in a bank and collects interest. It bears the mark of the government and the government is blessed because the economy is flowing. The bank is blessed because the money has been used to invest elsewhere. The customer is blessed because the money has increased in value by being lent to the bank. But in the Church who is blessed when money is given? The giver is blessed because he has been freed from the money and his worship has been intensified by the giving of it. The Church is blessed because the money has been invested in the preservation of the Church and the salvation of souls and because the Church’s main function, the Worship of God, could not be performed without it. The government is interestingly blessed in a round-about way because the money that is offered, having the image and superscription of the government, is evidence that the government has allowed the Church to operate freely, or at least somewhat freely (depending on the government) within its borders.

And whether the gold is at the bank or at the church, God is glorified because it is His gold in the first place and in the end it shall be His gold again. But the bank shall perish while the Church shall exist for all eternity. By Faith, the money is nothing to us. And by Faith being nothing it is again everything – our food, our raiment, our life. This is because, when we make the money nothing by Faith, it becomes God’s money by Faith. God is life forever. Money is life for a time. God and Money – They both become a matter of eternal life – but only when God comes first. If money comes first, then Money is death and we are dead. Since our money perishes with us, then we should get rid of as much as possible in this life – not just to the church mind you, but to the needy, and our children and our grandchildren. This is true. The only way that we can invest it so that it is ultimately safe is to place it in God’s bank, the Church. There is corruption in the Church. Embezzlement happens in the Church, unfortunately. Yet investing it in the Church with the right heart, is always lending to the Lord, even if a corrupt person in the Church makes off with our money, or a thief breaks in and steals (and the church insurance doesn’t pay up.) If we invest it in the bank, the bank will play with it and then our heirs will play with it but we shall not play with it after we die. If we invest it in materials objects, we shall play with the material object until it breaks or until we die. If, however, we invest it in the Church, then we really invest it in each other’s salvation. And if we do so, we shall be able to enjoy one another’s company in heaven forever.

If instead of money you give time to Church, I can not argue with this theologically. But let it be said that the money in this church is given with prayer and blessing. Let your time be given with much prayer so that it can be the best volunteerism that you do, the most productive time in your week, the most fruitful. Yet I prefer that you give money. Time is good, but money is better. That is a strange point, but one that needs to be carefully admitted.

The time we give to the Church is our time. It is generally relaxing, peaceful, a wonderful environment in which to work (although sometimes volunteering in a church can be aggravating). Volunteering feels good. I submit, though, that the hell we went through to earn our daily bread is harder, tougher, and more irritating work than the volunteering that we do for the Church. And so what is the greater sacrifice, time in a peaceful few hours with the Lord in his sweet service or the money that was a headache to earn? Indeed, not only a headache to earn, but it is a headache to keep. Not as a theological rule, but as a word of spiritual advice, I advise that we give in money and let our volunteer time be the icing on the cake. No, not even that, for the time we spend serving the Lord in His sanctuary is such a blessing to us because it is so sweet to work directly for God, that it is rarely a sacrifice.

 Giving is always fun, but giving money is strangely more fun than giving time. Why else would we give expensive Christmas presents? It is like saying, “I would like to come to your Christmas party, but instead of bringing a present I would like the time I spend with you to be my present.” A gracious host certainly says, “By all means come without a present for I would rather have you here without a present than not here at all.” But who would not feel that they were a poor guest and a downright Bah-humbug?

So let us give in the spirit of Christmas every Sunday and we shall be as happy every Sunday as we are at Christmas. Let us give as if money is going out of style, because, in fact, it is going out of existence. Let us pray.

We praise thee, O God, with gladness and humility for all the joys of life, for health and strength, for the love of friends, for work to do, and play to re-create us. We thank thee for the adventure of life. Above all, we thank thee for thy unspeakable gift of Jesus Christ our Lord, for the blessings that have come to us through his body the Church; and help us to show our thankfulness, not only with our lips, but in our lives, always endeavouring to do that which shall please thee; O God, the giver of all good gifts, we thank thee for all the blessings which we have. Give us always contented minds, cheerful hearts, and ready wills, so that we may spend and be spent in the service of others, after the example of him who gave his life a ransom for many, our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Amen.[1]   

[1] Adapted from Prayers for All Occasions, 11.


Christ the King – Fr. Geromel

“Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible or invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers.”

On this Christ the King Sunday, or Reformation Sunday, as it is known in many other churches, I am reminded – being Halloween – of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I find myself intrigued by the name of the hero, an unlucky hero, but a hero nonetheless – Ichabod Crane. Like Moby Dick, with its “Call me Ishmael,” the story indicates from the beginning that we have something of Old Testament reverberations happening before us. Ishmael means “God has hearkened” but was, of course, the luckless son of Abraham and the slave Hagar. Ichabod comes from the 1 Book of Samuel, “And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband” both of whom had just died. In Puritan New England, Old Testament names abound but why Ishmael, why Ichabod? Why “the Glory has departed” Crane? I think it tells you something about what was going on. American Independence had been won, and we enter into a story about a remote and obscure village along the Hudson River, Dutch, like the Colony of New York was before the English took it over; now it’s Yankee. Ichabod is from Connecticut. Everything is Calvinist. He’s Calvinist. The Dutch are Calvinist. But there are ghost stories and war stories, and jealousies and a schoolteacher who’s also a teacher of Psalmody and the Catechism who reads Cotton Mather’s book on Witchcraft in New England as a hobby. He’s jilted in love, tries to return late at night after a party where he’s so poor, he’s eating up as many doughnuts and pie as he can, to where he is boarding, and is attacked by a headless horseman. It is his rival in love, of course, dressed up as the ghost of a Hessian soldier, complete with a pumpkin head. Ichabod disappears, leaving all of his possessions (everybody thinks he’s dead) to become a successful lawyer in the city. It is a likely story. But what is the glory that has departed? The “City on a Hill” has departed, I might argue, and has been replaced by what Washington Irving called “Gotham City” – New York City (to later become immortalized in Batman comics.)

          I want to turn to John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” sermon. Delivered before reaching the New World in 1630, Winthrop writes: “God Almighty in his most holy and wise providence hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in subjection.” The first reason why? “First to hold conformity with the rest of His world, being delighted to show forth the glory of his wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures, and the glory of His power in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole, and the glory of His greatness, that as it is the glory of princes to have many officers, so this great king will have many stewards, counting himself more honored in dispensing his gifts to man by man, than if he did it by his own immediate hands.” This is consistent with our Epistle: “for by him were all things created . . .  whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the Church . . . that in all things he might have the preeminence.” But note this difference. Winthrop offers that the poor shall always be with us and also those who are lofty, as well as meek, but not to set up and exploit a sort of class struggle and warfare like Karl Marx. Winthrop outlines communal living in the early church and in the Old Testament church as being something done in times of persecution and great need, but not as the normal course of matters. For him, as with the Christian Church, poverty becomes the opportunity for charity, rather than the opportunity for stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Thus he says, “Secondly, that [God] might have the more occasion to manifest the work of his Spirit: first upon the wicked in moderating and restraining them, so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor the poor and despised rise up against and shake off their yoke.”

          In the story of Ichabod Crane, we have a poor schoolteacher hoping to marry a rich farmer’s wife. Despite already being jilted, he is made the butt of a cruel joke by what we would call today the “jock” who planned to marry the “homecoming queen.” This is the opposite of what John Winthrop outlined in his third reason as to why God ordered in this world both rich and poor, “that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection….” Here at the end of the Puritan era, and the beginning of American Independence, nearly two-hundred years after John Winthrop preached his oft-read sermon, this City on a Hill was still imperfect. And here we are, two hundred years after Irving’s writing, and the City on a Hill is all but extinguished. What shall we do? We return, as always, to first principles

          There are three spheres of a Christian commonwealth according to Richard Hooker the great Anglican political and ecclesiastical thinker: “a natural, a civil, and a spiritual.” Hooker says that you are never cut off from the natural state until you are dead. The civil state you can be put in jail. In a spiritual state, you can be excommunicated. Now what is the relationship between the civil state and a spiritual state. Hooker sees that laws are enacted by the civil state and then when the elected official assumes leadership, and he does in fact see that kings are in a sense elected, then our spiritual obligation is to obey them. He says this, “And therefore of what kind soever the means be whereby governors are lawfully advanced unto their seats, as we by the law of God stand bound meekly to acknowledge them for God’s lieutenants, and to confess their power his, so they by the same law are both authorized and required to use that power as far as it may be in any sort available to his honour.” God’s lieutenants is what Hooker describes them as. So we vote and we obey the Law – that is generally our part as Christians living in a commonwealth.

          But what of the spiritual? We are part of a spiritual state as well, are we not? The basis of this is also covenant and law. So Richard Mather, the father of Increase, who was the father of Cotton Mather, wrote in his Apology for the Church in New England in 1639, “concerning Church-Covenant . . . it may be thus described: A solemn and public promise before the Lord, whereby a company of Christians, called by the power and mercy of God to fellowship with Christ, and by his providence to live together, and by his grace to cleave together in the unity of the faith, and brotherly love, and desirous to partake together in all the holy Ordinances of God, do in confidence of his gracious acceptance in Christ, bind themselves to the Lord, and to one another, to walk together by the assistance of his Spirit, in all such ways of holy worship in him and of edification one towards another, as the Gospel of Christ requireth of every Christian Church, and the members thereof.” But you think, jeez, this is a congregational church we’re talking about here. Yet Richard Mather acknowledges the universal church and says, “The Catholic Church indeed is one, i.e. the whole company of God’s Elect in heaven, in earth, dead, now living, and not yet born. But as there is the Church-Catholic, which is but one; so there are particular and visible Churches, which are in number many.” Mather says, “the means of reforming and restoring a Church when it is corrupted . . . is by entering into Covenant anew with God.” This you did when you formed the ACC and this parish. Throughout his Apology, like Richard Hooker, Richard Mather presumes that there is a parallelism between the civil and ecclesial societies and that one gives us information about the other.  

Thus, we can say that as there are three levels of the civil estate: Nation or State, Town, and Family, so there are three levels of the spiritual estate: Denomination or diocese, parish, and family. In both, of course, the first level is marriage, which is the exact analogy and touchstone that both Mather and Hooker outline. The husband and wife, mutually covenanted together, according to the Law of God, and in like manner the other spheres of government are constituted. Marriage is a free association, not enacted by compulsion but by freely giving and receiving of rings, freely giving power to one another over physical bodies and temporal goods, ind the midst of boundaries and roles instituted by God’s Law. In the same way, all the other spheres of government are free associations under the King of kings and Lord of lords, whether they be “thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers” they are constituted by “the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”

We need to get back to the basics, and back to first principles, and to this end we should renew ourselves constantly with those same principles and in that Covenant, by which our forefathers won their liberties of old. As John Winthrop said on a boat sailing for a new world, “Thus stands the cause between God and us. We are entered into covenant with Him for this work. We have taken out a commission. The Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles. We have professed to enterprise these and those accounts, upon these and those ends. We have hereupon besought Him of favor and blessing. Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath He ratified this covenant and sealed our commission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it; but if we shall neglect the observation of these articles which are the ends we have propounded, and, dissembling with our God, shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, and be revenged of such a people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant. Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us . . .” That is to say, beloved, that it shall no longer be Ichabod with us, the Glory has departed, for the Glory shall have returned.

Trinity 21, 2021 – Fr. Geromel

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Ephesians 4

What does “pardon and peace” mean? Absolution, yes, but from what. Sins, yes, but also “all things that may hurt us.” All things that might disquiet our conscience, and take away our peace unnecessarily. St. Paul says a few things about dietary issues.

“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Romans 14:7

“But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.” 1 Cor. 8:8

“Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” 1 Cor. 6:13

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:” Col. 2:16

These speak in the first instance to the Judaizers, those who would hold Christians to the dietary laws of Moses, but in the second instance to Gnostics, sects of Christianity more given to philosophy than the Gospel. So Paul says to Timothy, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” 1 Timothy 4:1-3

Philosophical sects had dietary laws too:

  • Pythagoreans were vegetarians. Pythagoras was strongly against eating beans because they are full of air, so they must have life in them. He believed that beans and humans were spawned from the same thing so that it was equivalent to eating flesh.
  • “In Manichaeism, worship and ritual are means to release the divine light particles imbued in the Earth and that which dwells on it; for a Manichee, one’s life goal was to minimize the amount of dark particles being consumed, but to increase the amount of light particles in one’s diet. At death, the light particles are released, bringing more power to the cosmic forces of light that do battle with the darkness in the grand scheme of things.”[1]

The Christian Gospel releases one from all of these matters, all of these strains on the conscience. It provides “pardon and peace” in relation to dietary matters.

          In Heathen society too, health takes on way in which one is blown by many winds of doctrine. A Jesuit in the 17th Century, working among the Huron tribes records, “The dream is the oracle that all these poor people consult and obey, the prophet that predicts future events to them, the Cassandra which warns them of misfortunes threatening them, the doctor in their illness. It is the most absolute master they have. If a chief argues one way, and the dreams speaks another, the dream will be obeyed. The dream presides in their councils; trading, fishing and hunting are usually undertaken by its permission, and almost as if to satisfy it. . . A dream prescribes the feasts, the dances, the songs, the games; in a word, the dream does everything here, and in truth, is to be regarded as the chief gods of the Hurons.” He wrote, “these sorcerors . . . after a feast or a sweat, undertake to tell a sick man the origin and nature of his illness. Some order the person to make a dog feast, another to play games of crosse or dish, another to sleep in a certain skin, and other foolish and diabolical extravagances.” “This people is not so stupefied . . . that it does not seek and acknowledge something more lofty than the senses. Since their licentious life and their lewdness prevent them from finding God, it is very easy for the devil to insinuate himself and to offer them his services in the urgent need in which he sees them.”[2] These are the actual eye-witness reports of what passed for religion and medicine before the coming of Christ. This is not some Pocahontas idealism cast before children’s eyes to dazzle them with the purity of paganism and the supposed hypocrisy, extortionist motives, of western Christians and the supposed dirtiness of Western Civilization.

          And yet, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood”. The Heathens are not our enemies. The Philosophers are not our enemies. The Hollywood producers are not our enemies. The Politicians, although it would be nice to have someone to get mad at and they are not so likeable, are not our enemies. The Big Pharmaceutical companies are not our enemies. “we wrestle . . . against principalities” not princes “against powers,” not political powers, “against rulers of the darkness of this world,” not against rulers in Washington, “against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

          Concerning Pharmaceuticals, medical studies, the latest health craze, we wrestle not for or against them, although we may have an opinion about them. But before we have an opinion concerning the science of this world, it is “meet we arm us ‘gainst the foe,” putting on the whole armour of God, so we be not blown about with every wind of doctrine. It is good if we fast, so that we make sure that no idol stands in our hearts as we investigate the supposed “facts” presented to us by the media, or by medical studies, or by the latest health craze, or even by a doctor during a normal wellness checkup. When our God is our Belly, as St. Paul puts it, it is hard not to fall for every latest health craze. When we fear death, because our hearts are not where they should be with Jesus, it is constantly tempting to be blown about by every wind of medical study. It impedes our truly living, seers our consciences, angers us against those who might be deceiving us, makes to praise too highly those whom we believe to be correct about the facts of the day.

“Then said Jesus . . ., Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.”   


[2] Francis X. Talbot, Jean De Brébeuf: Saint among the Hurons, 71-72

Trinity 20, 2021 – Fr. Geromel – “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Our collect today is especially suited for a missionary, someone who offers salvation to those along the highways and byways of life. We pray that God of his “bountiful goodness” would “keep us” “from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things which” He commands. In the first instance, in the case of our Epistle today, the things that God commands is the “will of the Lord” – specifically, that we should not be “drunk with wine, …but… filled with the Spirit.” This is followed with a Gospel lesson having to do with a wedding feast, and, of course, wine is a part of a wedding feast, as is “singing and making melody” and “giving of thanks” but drunkenness should not, really, be a part of a wedding feast. All of these are straightforward facts. And we are reminded that those of us who have been called to the “King’s feast” should not use it as an opportunity to be immoral, but by the Spirit of God to go out and do the work, “cheerfully,” as if we are a little relaxed and our tongue loosened with wine. After all, the Apostles, when first preaching about Christ, were mistakenly thought to be drunk. Thus we return back to the subject of missionaries: The “King’s feast” this is something to which we are all invited, and which we should “cheerfully” go about inviting people to. In the case of St. Etheldreda (or St. Audrey), whom we celebrate today and who died in 679 A.D., she had a nominal marriage, and then fled her second marriage, to Egfrid, King of Northumbria. She fled her second marriage, in order spiritually to attend the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Having fled, she made her vows as a nun, and technically, to make a vow as a nun, is to marry Christ. In this way, she was married, we might say, three times. Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of love in the heart of Saint Etheldreda, thy servant, so that, at thy call, she gave up the old life for the new: Grant us the same faith and power of love that, as we rejoice in her triumph, we may learn her obedience; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[1]  

Two other worthy Christians celebrated today, both having to do with Persia, are helpful in elucidating the missionary effort of the Church.   

          The first saint of Persia that we will talk about is St. Mamelta, of whom Fr. Hughson says, “She was a Persian heathen priestess of the fifth century, who was converted through the instrumentality of a sister who was a Christian.” She was invited, we might assume “cheerfully,” by one who was already a Christian. Another record shows that she “received an admonition from an angel” and then “embraced the Christian Faith”[2] and given the fact that the Persian religion had much to do with angelology, such a contributing event is not implausible. He goes on, “She was baptised by a bishop whose name has not been preserved, and publicly denounced the old worship over which she had presided.” This we can connect to our Gospel lesson today where it says, “Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.” This refers to the Jews, both Pharisee and Sadducee, rejecting the offer of Christ. John Chrysostom says the reference to “burned up their city” prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem, and John Calvin says, the Old Testament priests, “had gained such influence over simple persons and the ignorant multitude, that the religion of the Jews depended on their will and decision. Christ therefore forewarns the weak, and shows that, as so many prophets, one after another, had formerly been slain by the priests, no one ought to be distressed, if a similar instance were exhibited in his own person.” It is also noteworthy that, while according to the Book of Acts, some priests were obedient to the Faith of Christ, many were not. There are many good Jews who bear the name Cohen, meaning that they are of the priestly line. So, having been rejected by much of the Aaronic priesthood, Christ often turned and gathered in, from the highways and byways, folks of the priestly class of pagan cultures (he did so especially in the Celtic lands) and establishes them in the Church. “So enraged were the pagan votaries of the gods that, while wearing her baptismal robe, and with the anointing of the regenerating sacrament still fragrant on her brow, she was seized and, after cruel torture which had no power to shake her faith, was drowned in a lake.”[3] Some of the hagiographies say that she was crushed with stones and then thrown in the lake.

          But I want you to imagine the drama of this real life event. Do you have the picture? Freshly baptized this good woman is tortured and martyred, still fragrant from the ritual of Baptism as we have it in the Fifth Century in that part of the world. We actually have records about baptism from the Fifth Century in Persia from a fellow by the name of Narsai. It matches well the themes of today’s Gospel. Narsai says that the baptismal candidate, having renounced the Devil, “names himself a soldier of the Kingdom of the height – a fugitive who has returned to take refuge with the King of kings.” So was St. Mamelta. “In the books the priest enters the name of the lost one, and he brings it in and places it in the archives of the King’s books.” So was St. Mamelta’s name enrolled, just as today I enroll every baptized name in the Parish Register. Concerning the anointing oil in Baptism, Narsai says “The three Names he traces upon his face as a shield; that the tyrant may see the image of the Divinity on the head of a man. . . . An armour is the oil with which the earth-born are anointed, that they may not be captured by the [evil] spirits in the hidden warfare. It is the great brand of the King of kings with which they are stamped, that they may serve [as soldiers] in the spiritual contest. . . . Like brave soldiers they stand at the King’s door, and the priest at their head like a general at the head of his army. He sets their ranks as if for battle at the hour of the mysteries, that they may be casting sharp arrows at the foe. . . . They renounce the standard of the Evil One, and his power and his angels; and then [the priest] traces the standard of the King on their forehead.” In this exact way was she was anointed just before being called to stand, physically, on the battle line and give her body up to the smiters. Having been plunged into the waters of Baptism to save her soul, she gave up the ghost, like Christ, but in the midst of a lake. The death that was offered and declined by the priests of Judaism, was accepted and “cheerfully accomplished” by a pagan priestess. In this way, literally clothed with the wedding garment of Holy Baptism, she went into the King’s feast.

          Some 1300 years later, another individual would walk in the land of Persia and India and give up the ghost in that world where St. Mamelta fell asleep, awaiting the Resurrection of the Just. Henry Martyn who lived between 1781 and 1812, was an Anglican missionary. Educated at St. John’s, Cambridge, he encountered Charles Simeon there, the great preacher of Cambridge, who spoke of the good work that William Carey was doing in India, and this led Martyn to be a missionary. (He was ordained a deacon at Ely Cathedral, which ironically was established first as an Abbey by St. Etheldreda whom we have already talked about.) After serving as Charles Simeon’s curate, He became a chaplain for the British East India Company and this became his place of duty and of death. Arriving in India in April 1806, he preached and worked on learning the languages around him. He translated the New Testament into Urdu, Persian and Judaeo-Persic. He translated the Psalms and Book of Common Prayer into Persian. Arriving in Shiraz, he disputed the Faith like St. Paul with “Sufi, Muslim, Jew, and Jewish Muslim, even Armenians” all of whom were “anxious to test their powers of argument with the first English priest who had visited them.” On October 16, 1812, he went to his reward and was buried by Armenian priests. He, also, went out into the highways and byways, seeking those who would wish to come into the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank thee for thy servant Henry Martyn, whom thou didst call to preach the Gospel to the people of India and Persia: Raise up, we pray thee, in this and every land, heralds and evangelists of thy Kingdom, that thy Church may make known the unsearchable riches of Christ, and may increase with the increase of God; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[4]  

[1] Frere, Black Letter Saints Days, 55.

[2] Roman and British Martyrology, 345.

[3] Hughson, Athletes of God, 334.

[4] Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 145.


Trinity 19, 2021 – Fr. Peter Geromel

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”

I want to look at the Epistle lesson today to understand how it is, in a sense, a commentary by St. Paul on the Ten Commandments. Commandments are like fences, regular ones, not electric ones. When you touch an electric fence, you get zapped. Someone who expects to get zapped by lightening the minute he breaks a commandment might be disappointed. It could happen, I suppose, but it would be a scientific fluke if it did. No. Commandments are like regular fences. We have a kitten. The kitten likes to try to get out the door but, fortunately, we have a fence on the porch. At first, he just came out and sniffed around. Eventually, he darts for a corner, trying to hide. Then he makes a dart between the posts of the fence onto the lawn. There really is very little danger on the lawn. But just a few feet away is a busy road. As he gets bolder, the danger gets stronger. St. James says, “[E]very man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” It’s a gradual process. We pray today, “Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts” against this!

St. Paul exhorts us today, “that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” This first part of the reading from Ephesians 4 refers to the I and II Commandments but this is more easily seen from the vantage point of Romans 1, where Paul speaks about the same themes at greater length: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead . . .” (Rom. 1:20). This relates to the 1st Commandment: God is One, as His creation is one universe. There is no other God. Him only shalt thou Worship. St. Paul mentions the pagans, that “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Here we begin to go into the 2nd Commandment, against making idols, graven images. “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.” What is so wrong with that? Well, idols numb something about who we are. Ephesians says, “being past feeling” being numbed “have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” Romans expands on this and says, “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.” As if we don’t get it, Paul repeats himself a bit, “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” The text in Romans 1 keeps going on and is a little shocking in how plainly it describes the impact of idolatry on the human heart – that it leads to a pornographic mind and a perverted lifestyle. It numbs our conscience.

Today, in the life of the Church, we recall the brother and sister duo, Saints Eulampius and Eulampia, who lived in the beginning of the fourth century in Nicomedia. Eulampius, refusing to deny his faith, was raked with iron hooks, and then placed on a barbeque grill. He said he wanted to visit the pagan temple. The persecutors thought he was coming their way. He went into the temple of the God of War, Mars, and prophesied against the idol saying, “In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command you to fall to the floor and crumble into dust.” The idol did so. It was an Elijah moment. The people observing this cried out, “The Supreme God is the Christian God, Who is great and mighty!” Unlike the Elijah moment, the people did not rise up and slay the pagan priests, but the pagans slew the people. Two hundred were martyred with Eulampius and Eulampia. Now, if you’re willing to believe the story of Elijah calling down fire from heaven as we have it in the Bible, you might as well believe this story which comes to us from Church History and from eyewitness report and not so long ago as Elijah lived. Even if you want to be skeptical and cynical, what does the story symbolize? Well, Maximian the Emperor, under whose persecution these two died, who lived between 250 and 310 A.D., was a great conqueror. He suppressed the rebels in Gaul called the Bagaudae, then fought against the Germanic tribes on the Rhine river; He dealt with rebels in Gaul and Britain, Carausius and Allectus, then moved south to fight piracy in modern day Spain and North Africa. He was a man of war and the saint, Eulampius, had specifically denounced him as one who had made war on his own people, the Christian subjects of Rome, just as he had made war on the barbarians and rebels. It is fitting that it was a temple of Mars that Eulampius vanquished with the power of God, because Mars is the god of War, and Maximian had remade himself like his own idol, into a god, a Caesar of War.

St. Paul says that Christians are supposed to be different from Gentiles. “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Every man puts off his old man, changing over cells every seven or so years, becoming a completely new person every ten years. The question is, will you put on the new man according the image of Jesus Christ, or a new man in the image of your idols. Maximian became a new Mars, according to the idol he prayed to in a temple; Eulampius became a new Man, according the image of Jesus Christ. Concerning the III Commandment, we avoid taking the Lord’s Name in Vain, when we receive His Holy Name in Baptism, and actually put off the Old Man, and put on the New, which is the spiritual outworking of Holy Baptism.

Let’s look at the rest of these ten commandments. IV Commandment – Paul says we should be “renewed in the spirit of [our minds]” and that renewal happens especially when we “assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.” Renewal happens especially when we keep the Sabbath day Holy. Next, St. Paul says, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” This refers to the V Commandment, “Honor thy Father and thy Mother.” You say, how? Well, the commandment must be more than about biological parents, or else there would be no commandment to keep once one’s parents were dead! Let’s take a look at St. James’ Epistle again. In the First Chapter, he seems to rely on Proverbs 16:32, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty . . .” with his own, “. . . let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath . . .” (verse 19). Likewise, in Chapter 3, James seems to be working off of the theme from Proverbs 16:31, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness,” by way of a comment on that in the Book of Wisdom 4:9 “But wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age” to reach the conclusions he does “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” The wise man full of righteousness and good conversation (truth spoken to a neighbor, to use St. Paul’s words), is a father within the community of faith. On the other hand, Proverbs 17:24 and 25 says, “Wisdom is before him that hath understanding . . . A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him.” Foolishness does not honor father and mother. This St. Paul confirms to Timothy in two places, that Timothy should instruct in meekness (II Timothy 2:25) and in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” In this way, the bishop, even if a young man full of wisdom, like St. Timothy, is worthy of honor, even double honor, as St. Paul says to St. Timothy later in 5:17. So honoring Father and Mother is in the spirit of the words honoring those who are honest, full of wisdom and righteousness, knowing that we are members one of another.

Moving on to VI and VII Commandments, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” refers to “Thou shalt do no murder”. It also refers to “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” How did I come up with that one? When the sun goes down upon your wrath in marriage, the devil finds a place to dwell, encouraging lust, and ultimately, the death of the marriage through adultery. Thus St. Paul writes elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 7:5, “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourself to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”

“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” That straightforwardly refers to VIII Commandment “Thou shalt not steal” but also hints at how we overcome the vice of avarice or greed according to Moral theology, with the virtue of generosity, “that he may have to give to him that needeth.” “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” This refers to IX Commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” because corrupt communication slanders other people, truth builds up and ministers grace to the hearers. Finally, covetousness X Commandment is excluded from our hearts when we put away bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamoring, and evil speaking, and malice. This is confirmed in Moral Theology, by the teaching that the vice of envy or jealousy is combatted with the virtue of magnanimity, being big hearted, or, as St. Paul puts it “kind” “tender-hearted” “forgiving.”

Now all of this instruction by St. Paul on the Ten Commandments, confronts the mistake that the Pharisees make in the Gospel lesson today. The Scribes are envious of Jesus and slander him in their hearts, saying “This man blasphemeth” but Jesus knows the thoughts of their hearts, and our hearts; He tells them that they are thinking evil in their hearts. The same God who can bring idols to dust in Nicomedia, can dissolve the idols from our hearts. He can forgive sins. When that happens, the multitudes, as on this day in Nicomedia, can turn to the Lord having seen an idol of Mars dissolve into sand, but can also marvel and glorify God, because God can forgive sins, just as easily as he raises the sick from their sickbed.   

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”


Trinity 18, 2021 – Fr. Peter Geromel

One of the rather normal features of a church is someone or some people who fulfil the role of “gate keeper.” What is a “gate keeper”? Often there is a person, or a couple, or a few people in the church who are the first to meet and greet and introduce a visitor around. It is probably a necessary role. It is certainly sociologically natural that it develops in any organization. At the ordination service in the Prayer Book, the man about to be ordained a priest is exhorted concerning gatekeeping and promises to be one. The very gospel lesson appointed to be read says, “He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” The one about to be ordained is later asked the question, “Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your Cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given?” By these words, it is evident that the Priest of the Parish, he is the chief and only official “gate keeper” and not any particular person or persons in the congregation.

That doesn’t mean that others can’t fulfill some aspect of the role. In the church where I grew up, we always hoped that Erma would be there when a visitor came. Erma was great! She had a gift. She would introduce herself with a beaming smile and sit with the visitor, handing them a prayer book, working through it with them. Many tried to do the same thing when she wasn’t there, and it never went quite as well. Even the oft-used tactic, “here is a Prayer Book, this is how we use it” must be carefully applied. It has a way of welcoming some but also telling others that ours is a culture that is foreign to them. It can make such a person feel alienated. How does someone who wants to welcome others proceed in the right way? The Holy Spirit will usually make a way, if we are listening.

          In today’s Gospel lesson, there is a gate keeper thing probably going on. “When the Pharisees had heard that Jesus had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.” The Pharisees thought, he didn’t join the Sadducee church, maybe he will join the Pharisee church. Maybe we can get the multitudes who are following him to come our church. “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying . . .” He was gate keeping, to a certain extent, asking Jesus, are you one of us? Are you up on your Pharisee theology? Do you have the proper Pharisee union card? Jesus turns the tables quite simply and flawlessly. He answers the question just fine and then has a few of his own. “What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?” This reminds me of some of the Brit Crime shows I watch. Occasionally, trying to get one over on the detective, someone being interrogated starts to ask the detective some questions. “Are you getting anywhere in your investigation? Do you have any suspects?” Jesus politely says to the Pharisees, like a detective, “I’m the one asking the questions today.” It’s great!

          In addition, it is absurd to be a gate keeper to Jesus. He’s the gate keeper and He’s the gate. “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9, NIV). The real difference between a good gate keeper in a church, and a bad one, is pretty simple, pretty straightforward. By way of example, in one particular church I knew of, before you were even all the way in the front door, one of the ushers was already greeting you, already asking you questions. Literally, you’d be halfway through the door, held up, answering his questions. You immediately got the impression that it was his church (and, in fact, there was some indication that he and his wife had, in fact, bought the building). This is the same problem that the Pharisees had. They thought it was their Covenant because they were Abraham’s sons, and they could let in or out anybody that they wanted, based on their theology, the teaching of their dead rabbis, and based on their egos. The same thing happened when St. Paul went visiting different synagogues, and then, later, folks came into the church of God and started saying, you’ve got to do it my way, you’ve got to get circumcised. They started gate keeping in the bad way.

          Gate keeping, in the best way, is pretty simple, even if you don’t have the gift that Erma had (God rest her soul). All you need to do is exude that this is Jesus’ church, that Jesus is the ultimate gate. He will let in whoever is His, so to some extent, we can relax. When each and every one of us has the right spirit in our hearts, it will be evident to all. It doesn’t always mean that it will work. It takes two to tango. Sometimes people come in with the wrong spirit and, despite having Jesus present in our hearts, something goes wrong. Yet the onus is always on us to find out where we are at in the whole thing.

          How do we have the right spirit in our hearts? Paul prays today for Corinth, “that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift . . .” He prays for Corinth that in all utterance they come behind in no gift. We might pray for the gift of uttering words that indicate that Jesus is here. It’s still pretty hard though. Today, we pray that we might withstand the “temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.” The Gospel lesson I quoted from the ordination service says this as well, “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Recently, some messages by text and spam calls worried me, and I went ahead and got identity theft insurance. I was concerned about my security and that of my family. You know, we just go through our lives trying to take care of our business and take care of our families, but there are folks out there always thinking, thinking non-stop, of how to invade our world and take our stuff. They can steal your peace, even when they never take anything. They steal your peace without stealing anything when you suddenly realize you are vulnerable. These wicked people learn from the best. They learn from the demons how to steal your peace. Temptations are thieves as well; they steal the peace of Jesus from our hearts, and then we don’t show forth Jesus to others. Temptations instead of giving us abundance and quality of life, reduce us, make us less of who Jesus meant us to be. I find it fascinating that the Sikhs, that fifth largest religion in the world (that I talk about in the newsletter this month) teach about fighting against “five thieves” – lust, rage, greed, attachment, and ego. (I can’t help but think of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves when I read this.) Or rather Sikhs seek to transform them. These are not unlike our seven deadly sins – pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth. Transforming them is a good way to talk about how we turn these impulses to good, with the virtues.

          There are three ways in which we are attacked and tempted when a visitor comes into our midst. As in all things, The world, the flesh, and the devil, are trying to steal our peace. The world says to us, you need to be a certain size church to count. This leads to a sense of insecurity in all of us, a tendency to talk about being a “little church” in a slightly embarrassed or apologetic tone. There is no church that is actually “little” that has Jesus present with it and when it is part of the full company of the saints on earth and in heaven. The flesh says to us all sorts of things (mostly through a sense of self-consciousness), and all of them can distract us from really connecting with a visitor and showing them that Jesus is here. And, of course, the Devil is always ready to exploit anything, being the author of confusion, stealing our peace on the way to church so that we are flustered or distracted or in a bad place mentally when a visitor walks in. To be of a right mind on Sunday morning takes forethought and preparation. It’s good for us, our souls, for each other, and good if there is a visitor that comes, for all of us to prepare aright before church.

          Thomas Ridgley (1667-1734) a dissenting minister, wrote on the subject many years ago: “Now, we ought, the evening before [the Lord’s Day], to lay aside our care and worldly business, that our thoughts may not be encumbered, diverted, or taken up with unseasonable or unlawful concerns about it. . . . We may add, that all envyings, contentions, evil surmising against our neighbour, are to be laid aside; since these will tend to defile our souls and deprave our minds, when we ought to be wholly taken up about divine things. . . . It would also be expedient for us to meditate on the vanity of worldly things, which we have laid aside all care about, and think how contemptible the gain of them is, if compared with communion with God, which is our great concern. . . . To these meditations we ought to join our fervent prayers to God, that the sins committed by us in former sabbaths may be forgiven, that he may not be provoked to withdraw the influences of his Spirit on the approaching day, and that the world, with its cares, may not then be a snare to us, through the temptations of Satan, together with the corruption of our own hearts, whereby our converse with God would be interrupted. We ought to pray also that he would assist his ministers in preparing a seasonable word, which may be blessed to ourselves and others. . . . We ought to be very importunate with God, that he would sanctify and fill our thoughts, from the beginning to the end of the Lord’s day, which he has consecrated for his immediate service and glory.”[1] And to this we might add, Amen and Amen. Whether visitors come or not, the Lord’s Day is to His glory and to whatever purpose He has intended it.

[1] Ridgley, Thomas. A Body of Divinity. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855. Print. From


Trinity 17, 2021 – Fr. Geromel

“There is one body, and one Spirit, . . . one Lord, one Faith, one baptism . . .”

For anything natural (or, as we shall show, supernatural) to work properly, for it to work, we might say, excellently, it needs to have both the proper form and the proper function. I am not sure that “work” is the proper way to describe how the supernatural operates, but that is still the idea that I’ll work with here. It is the reason why the wife in her kitchen seeks diligently till she finds that essential piece of her favorite blender, the proper lid for the correct sized pot. It is the reason why the husband searches for the correct tool and gets irritated when he does not find it. It is the reason why both of them, if they work, like to have the right program or app installed on their devices. Another tool might do, but not as well, not as excellently. It is even why the child throws a toy across the room when it becomes marred or distorted, or when the battery needs to be changed. Form and function are important in what we do everyday and how we use things in every way.

          The first part of our text for today: “There is one body, and one Spirit” and this refers to the natural and the supernatural parts of the Church. “One Body” is the natural part, and “One Spirit” is the supernatural part. The Church being The Sacrament, Christ’s Body on Earth, is the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible “Holy Spirit” in the world today after the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. We might say that this is the “Form” that the Church takes, “One Body, and One Spirit.” Our catechism answers the question, “What is the Church?” with “The Church is the Body of which Jesus Christ in the Head, and all baptized people are the members.” There is, however, a function. That function we can understand through the next three ideas. She operates and functions by “one Lord, one Faith, one baptism.” She functions by “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

          That all might sound a bit pie in the sky, a bit nitpicky. Why so, when we have so many times every day that we rely on just such a distinction as form and function? If you have a chef’s knife that looks beautiful, has a great shape, a serrated edge, and yet doesn’t cut, then it has wonderful form but doesn’t function. What kind of a knife would that be, I ask you? If on the other hand, you have a rustic knife made of flintstone, it might not be very beautiful, it might not have a very nice form, but it still functions. And wouldn’t we be tempted to say that that flintstone knife more excellent knife, if it at least works? On the other hand, if you use a bowling pin to hammer a nail, it might function quite well as a hammer, but there is something really lacking in its form. A bowling pin is quite nice in its own way, as a bowling pin, and can sort of adequately function as a hammer – but it isn’t a hammer, and definitely not, therefore, an excellent hammer. When it comes to pounding in nails excellently, we want to have a hammer, something specifically designed to have both the form and function of driving nails home.

          When it come to driving us home to heaven, when it comes to something as important as eternal salvation, does it not seem logical that this same principle applies? Doesn’t it seem quite clear that we should have something in place that has the form and function adequate to so important a task? In this way, there is a form “one Body, and one Spirit” made to function so that those people of whom the Church is constituted proclaim “one Lord and one Faith” having been washed by “one Baptism.” John Wesley said this in a sermon we will be quoting from on this same bible text: “‘There is one Spirit’ who animates all these, all the living members of the Church of God. . . .” “‘There is,’ in all those that have received this Spirit, ‘one hope;’ a hope full of immortality. They know, to die is not to be lost: Their prospect extends beyond the grave.” That is a function of the Spirit being animate in our lives. Fearlessness in the face of death is contrary to nature, where each creature is endowed with a fight or flight instinct. It is a supernatural gift to be fearless in the face of death. And yet, many heathens with a partial sense of the truth can be fearless in the face of death. So clearly this in and of itself is not enough to distinguish the Christian man from other religious people.

          John Wesley continues, “‘There is one Lord,’ who has now dominion over them, who has set up his kingdom in their hearts, and reigns over all those that are partakers of this hope. To obey him, to run the way of his commandments, is their glory and joy.” This is good and helpful so that we can say that this gets closer to the true function of a Christian. Yet we do note that there are other religions that cause men to obey, to do what is commanded and to do so to the glory of the truth and with joy. Again, this is helpful but not enough. So we are to learn that St. Paul adds yet more.

          John Wesley says this, “‘There is one faith;’ which is the free gift of God, and is the ground of their hope. This is not barely the faith of a Heathen; Namely, a belief that ‘there is a God,’ and that he is gracious and just, and, consequently, ‘a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.’ Neither is it barely the faith of a devil; though this goes much farther than the former. For the devil believes, and cannot but believe, all that is written both in the Old and New Testament to be true. But it is the faith of St. Thomas, teaching him to say with holy boldness, ‘My Lord, and my God!’ It is the faith which enables every true Christian believer to testify with St. Paul, ‘The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.’” This is not, we might say, of our own doing. It is the Spirit of God that works this in us.

          Finally, the idea of “one Baptism” something still worked by God, but something that we more clearly do, in some sense, ourselves. It is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It is a sacrament. Of it Fr. Wesley says well that it is “the outward sign our one Lord has been pleased to appoint, of all that inward and spiritual grace which he is continually bestowing upon his Church. It is likewise a precious means, whereby this faith and hope are given to those that diligently seek him.” In itself it has a form, “I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” which is said with water. It has itself a function, to graft us into the Body of Christ, to graft us into this one hope, this one Lord, this one faith. Unlike our imaginary knife that can have a beautiful form, but fail to cut; given the proper form, since it is Christ Who is wielding that knife, it does not fail to cut. But if we offer it without the proper form, we are unsure that it will function – because the Form was given to us by Christ himself, the one Who makes the Form to Function. Baptize someone with rose petals instead of water; Baptize someone with the words, “I baptize thee in the Name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” or in the Name of Jesus only, and we have deviated. We have tried to drive a nail with a bowling pin, when Christ has clearly given us a hammer, and then we are unsure of the direction and unsure of the precision and unsure of the end result. Since the end result should be eternal salvation and the hope of heaven, these are not things we are wise to contrive or to innovate.

          The same is true, as we return to the concept of the Church. The Form, which is made up of baptized individuals, is made up into a Functional Army of God, a Church Militant, against which the Gates of Hell cannot stand, though it tries and tries. A hammer, in the hands of a trained craftsman, cannot fail to drive a hammer. A knife, in the hands of a skilled chef, cannot fail to carve. The Church in the hands of Christ the King, cannot fail to function against the Gates of Hell, which stands in our way, as we drive on to heaven.

          On their way to the promised land, there stood a mighty fortress in the way of the Army of God, known as the Hebrews of the Wilderness. There stood a mighty fortress in their way, but God was the wielder of that knife and of that hammer. That Church in old Israel had “One Body, and One Spirit.” She had “One Lord,” “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is One.” “One Faith,” which was loyalty to the Covenant that God had made with them through the Law of Moses. “One Baptism” or as it was called then circumcision, which was cut with a stone knife, not so beautifully but beautifully and excellently functioning to remove the foreskin from the male member of the male population. Seven priests carried seven rams horns, just as we today have seven sacraments. That gate of Hell, which stood against Israel and their new homeland of paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey, was no match for the form and function of that Old Church, when wielded by Christ the King.

Let us pray.

O Lord Jesu Christ, Lord mighty in battle, make, we pray Thee, Thy Church militant mighty also in battle. Give her courage to attack all strongholds of infidelity and sin; arm her with patience under apparent failure, and perseverance against ever-renewed opposition. Above all, kindle in her such love of souls for Thy most blessed sake, that she may toil and travail for the salvation of all men, and may always and everywhere reflect Thine Image, and impart Thy consolations. Amen.        


Trinity 16, 2021 – Fr. Geromel

“Jesus went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.”

We see here, beloved, the repetition of the words “much people” and so we are to draw from this that, indeed, there were many people there. There was a crowd coming and a crowd going and, like a crowd trying to get on the elevator while the other crowd is trying to get off the elevator, we might imagine that the two crowds – the one following a dead son of a widow and the other following the alive son of the Mother of God – must have bumped there at that place of entrance, the gate of the city of Nain.

The gate in ancient times was the place of judgment; it is where the king of the city adjudicated; it served as a court of law. In this court of law then, Jesus, as He does with all sinful persons, had pity. “He had compassion on her” and said “weep not”. Why am I now talking about sinful persons? Wasn’t he having compassion on a dead person and on the mother of that dead person? Well, we can easily make the connection between sin and death by virtue of the fact that sin brings death.

But I want to make a further point. Death, our death, is not really something that makes us suffer. It is, on a certain level, the end of our suffering. No. Our death affects our friends, our family, our coworkers, but not us. So it is with sin. Sin does not affect us as much as it affects others. For us, temptation is our suffering. The alleviation of that suffering is sin. When we are tempted we suffer. When we give in to that temptation we are relieved. Of course, when we get to the final judgment we do get our just deserves, but that is not specifically what I am talking about here. And certainly sin can hurt the body, but that is not specifically the point that I am trying to make.

The ancient philosopher Epicurus believed in nothing immaterial or spiritual. For him the soul was still made of atoms, atoms that gave sensation to the body, physical atoms. He said of Death that it was nothing to us because when we are, death is not and when death is, we are not. And we Christian philosophers – for that is what the followers of the Way of Christianity are – can follow Epicurus to a certain extent. While the soul feels the effects of death, the body does not, not until after the Resurrection of the Body. After the Resurrection of the Body whether the punishment is sorrow or the reward bliss, the Body joins the Soul in feeling the retribution given in the Final Judgment but prior to that only the soul feels the effects of sin, in whatever way that might be during what is called the Intermediate State. The Intermediate State is the time between death and the General Resurrection and Final Judgment.

Now, to get back to this widow: Sin takes effect on those we love. Death does so likewise, and fittingly so as it is the proper effect of sin. So while we feel the effects of sin sometimes, others feel it always – if not before our death then at the time of our death. So it is that the teenager or young person who drowns away his life in drugs and alcohol feels nothing but euphoria, or claims that he is quote “happy”, the family feels it always and finally comes to the funeral of such a poor soul. When Jesus meets this poor soul, we are not told if it was for a depraved life that he died young or just fell from an aneurism. I mention an aneurism because Nain is where an Old Testament prophet, Elisha, raised a boy who seems to have died from something like an aneurism. Yet Jesus, at the place of judgment, the gate of the city, chooses to raise this son from the dead, not for the widow only but for us today so that we might hear and believe that God can not only raise from the dead but forgive sins, of which death is the proper judgment. If he can raise from the dead, he can also forgive sins.

People can heal, but not ultimately. People can cast out demons, but not for forever. Only God, the Creator of life, can ultimately do all things. Only God, as Creator of Life, can remove the curse of sinning in life, which is the opposite of life, which is death. That is to say, only God can forgive sins. Only a Jesus who is God can do it. As a symbol of the Judgment to come, Jesus stops at the place of judgment, the gate, and, as a symbol of good things to come, raises from the dead. But He did so as a sign that He is God.

We might imagine the immense size of this crowd, because when a young person dies many come to the funeral. When an old person dies, fewer come. But when a teenager is hit by a car, or dies of drug abuse, whatever the cause, innocent or depraved, the whole town shows up and the funeral director has to bring in chairs from the competition, from other funeral homes, to accommodate all who will arrive. So we can imagine that the crowd at this funeral was great indeed. We can also imagine that the crowd following Jesus was great indeed, because he had just cured the servant of the Centurion, the Roman officer, mentioned earlier in the 7th Chapter of Luke. When they bumped into one another it was the crowd following Life bumping into the crowd following Death.

We might take a moment to imagine our Lord, coming humble to the gates of Nain. He is that God/man who brings life to all. He creates. He sustains. He saves and sanctifies. But when he went wandering around, he did not get drawn in a grand chariot, or carriage, or Cadillac or limo. No. It is the one who is dead who is carried on a bier, or in a hearse made by Cadillac. It is the family of the deceased who drive in a limo, like important people drive in when they go about the great affairs of State and even the great affairs of Church. Yet on this occasion, our Lord does not get carried, even though the people are elated by His miracles and may well wish to carry Him. When He is finally carried, for the purposes of bringing about His own death for our salvation, when He is carried into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, even then He rides a donkey, not a great chariot.

So here we can see the humility of Life and the elevation of Death that is so a part of the perverted generation and age in which we live. Humility draws its meaning from “humus” – not a dip for pita bread – but the word “earth”. Yet humility is life-giving and elevation is death giving. It is elevation through pride that first brought us death. So our Gospel lesson shows us that the folks were elevating the dead boy and carrying him to show us that elevation brings death. Our Gospel lesson tells us that Jesus was walking on the ground, not riding in a grand carriage, to show us that humility brings life. Important leaders of the world roam around in fancy cars, saving life here and delivering death there. But ultimately those leaders are dead. They can spare. They can make others despair. But they cannot bring back from the dead. But Our Lord, who can spare and make others despair can also repair the body, bring the breath of life back into the body, and raise the dead. No matter how elevated one is on earth, everyone is ultimately humbled when they are placed back in the earth.

Beloved, we are not to follow the crowd which leads to death, but the crowd that leads to life. We are not to follow after those crowds who exalt and carry about important persons who are not quickened by the Holy Spirit and who are, in fact, spiritually dead and whose bodies are dying.

We are to draw from this the healthy conclusion that the gate of life and the gate of death are one and the same gate. One direction leads to death, the other to life. We are in that gate now. The choice is before us. Do we follow Jesus and Life? Do we follow dead men and death?

Let us pray.

O Blessed Jesus, keep us this day and ever from evil and danger of soul and body, and from all that would offend Thee. Come, O Holy Spirit, and help us in all our temptations, and in all our desires to advance in holiness, that, living holy lives, we may die happy deaths. Never leave us to ourselves, lest we fall. Guide us to the strait gate, lead us in the narrow path, so that, saved at last, we may have no more to fear, but may rejoice before Thee for ever and ever. Amen.[1]      

[1] Chain of Prayer Across the Ages, 161. From The Narrow Way, 1869.


Trinity 15, 2021 – Fr. Geromel

The first thing I wish to do today is to compare the kind of “glorying in the flesh” or making a “fair show in the flesh” that we see in Galatians 6 today, with some of the saints who are commemorated on September 12th. (Today is also the Holy Name or Nativity of Mary, but there are many saints that we would never remember if we only commemorated the Marian Feasts.) The glorying or making a fair show in the flesh through circumcision, which the Judaizers, with whom Paul was contending, were doing, has a very different spirit from the saints that we will cover today.

The first I would like to mention is the venerable Bassian of Tiksnensk, Vologda, a Slavic monk, who died in 1624. Now this fellow, for thirty years “wore chains on his body: on his shoulders a heavy chain, on his loins an iron belt, and on his head beneath [the monastic] head covering an iron cap.” Evidently, he was an eccentric fellow and, we might say, ostentatious. Nevertheless, he was clearly considered by those around him to be not a vain person but one who was engaged in ascetic struggle and therefore was, no doubt, using these pieces of iron as constant reminders to keep himself humble, which is the total opposite of those who, in Paul’s day, became puffed up over their circumcision.

You might say, well, I don’t think the monastic life is for me especially if iron chastity belts are in order. Well, another possibility of humility is to be a quiet church mouse, like Guy of Anderlecht, a Belgian saint who lived between 950 and 1012. He was a simple “farm boy” who served as a sexton and sacristan, sweeping the church, cleaning the vestments, fixing the flowers on the altar, getting ready between services. He did not “glory in the flesh” but did the menial tasks, staying out of the way, and letting Jesus shine through.

The next saint to be considered is St. Ailbe, or as the Anglicized version of his name has it, St. Elvis. Now, we don’t know too much about St. Elvis, but we know that there is some indication that he was baptized by Palladius, someone who was sent to convert Ireland prior to St. Patrick, and there is an indication that St. Elvis baptized St. David of Wales, the great patron saint of that kingdom. Of course, it is interesting who baptized who and might help us know something of the history of the early Church, but as St. Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 1 “Was Paul crucified for you? Either were ye baptized into the name of Paul?”; it’s not about who baptized anyone. Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” The way we sacramentally participate, first and foremost, in the Cross of Christ is through Holy Baptism, which is not a work of Palladius or of St. Elvis, or of any saint, but Christ who is working the work.

The next one that I would like to consider is Saint Eanswith, born in 630, an Anglo-Saxon princess who is said to have founded Folkestone Priory. A pagan prince came by to seek her hand in marriage. She could have left the nunnery and married him, as her aunt, St. Ethelburga had married King Edwin two or three years before (which led to King Edwin’s conversion) but she did not do as her aunt had done, and serve Christ the King that way, but chose a different path, the one laid out for her. Choosing your particular path as a Christian is important. Just because another relative or friend has chosen one path to glorification through our Lord, does not mean that it is your path – and if you choose someone else’s path, it may lead to “glorying in the flesh” or someone else glorying in your flesh, but not to your glorification through following the Cross of Christ.

The last saint I want to particularly look at, and there are many that I had to choose from, is Hieromartyr (Priest-Martyr) Dositheus Metropolitan of Tbilisi, who was martyred on this day in 1795. At that time, 35,000 soldiers of Iran under Aqa Muhammed Khan, known as the “Eunuch King,” had marched against the Christian Kingdom of Georgia in order to re-subjugate it and through treachery, the Christian King Erekle’s life was threatened. Although he was willing to die on the field of battle, he was gotten out of harm’s way. Nonetheless, the city of Tbilisi was put to the torch and the people of that city murdered, the fires taking with them the libraries and print shop, destruction was dealt to the churches and the king’s palace. Of the bishop Dositheus, the soldiers demanded a renunciation of his faith, requiring him to trample upon the image of the Holy Cross. And, rather than glorying in saving his flesh, he gloried in the life to come. This is that last sort of bearing in the body the marks of the Lord Jesus that Paul talks about today. Dositheus followed the example of St. Paul, and of Coronatus, Bishop of Nicomedia and Autonomus, a Bishop of Italy, both of whom were also martyred for the Faith on this day. 

The second thing that I want to today is to look at the Gospel lesson, in which we are reminded, like so many saints that have gone before, that this body is not all that matters and that the food of today, can be gone tomorrow, just as our mortal life is gone tomorrow. We are reminded that God is the provider of food and life. And that we can not serve the God of life and of food, while worshipping “mammon” – those other means by which food is secured. There is a bumper sticker that says, “NO FARM NO FOOD”. The cities have a tendency to feel pretty self-sufficient – that’s the point of the bumper sticker – and, yet, without the farms to support the city they would have nothing. This isn’t an American reality, or a Southern reality, but a Biblical times reality. “Cain also knew his wife, which conceived and bore Enoch: and he built a city, and called the name of the city by the name of his son, Enoch” (Genesis 4:17). “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah, brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, And overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that grew upon the earth” (Genesis 19:24-25). “Therefore did they set taskmasters over them, to keep them under with burdens: and they built the cities of Pithom and Raamses for the treasures of Pharaoh” (Exodus 1: 11). Samson is said to have gone down to the city of Timnah, and that was the beginning of his fall. Psalm 55 says, “O that I had wings like a dove! . . . Lo, then would I get me away far off, and remain in the wilderness. I would make haste to escape, because of the stormy wind and tempest. Destroy their tongues, O Lord, and divide them; for I have spied unrighteousness and strife in the city . . . mischief also and sorrow are in the midst of it. Wickedness is therein; deceit and guile go not out of her streets.” We can quote much that says that the city folks are where unrighteousness takes place and the country folk as being sort of the good guys, the religious folks, the righteous folk. Of course, this is not true. But one thing is certain, where the food is stored up and your daily bread is not based on the capricious nature of the weather, as the farmer’s is, then your heart has a tendency to move away from the Lord. Of course, both groups of people are linked more than they might like to be, and both have a tendency to follow mammon rather than God spiritually. Yet the spiritual dangers of cities, especially, is noted in the Old Testament and prominent in the New Testament world as well.

The Universe 25 experiment was an attempt to produce a “Paradise of Mice” by allowing mice a world where they didn’t have to seek after food. The result was that eventually the males did not seek to mate with females, homosexuality among the male mice began, and, despite plenty of food, cannibalism ensued. The experiment was repeated 25 times with the same result. What does this tell us? Perhaps that despite the ills of poverty and hunger, creatures are made by Almighty God for struggle and for thriving under pressure. This is why many saints chose to move out from the cities, to go to the isolated spaces, to find that spiritual struggle for which their souls longed.

The remedy whether living in city or country is to turn from God and eat the bread that comes down from God, rather than from Mammon, eaten with thankfulness for Providence, rather than with the assumption that it is from my own hard work or is simply owed to me because I exist and am sitting here, waiting for a handout. Martin Luther wrote to city-dwellers (and by extension country folk) about Holy Communion saying two things of note: “That Christ with all his saints is one spiritual body, just as the people in a city are a community and a body, and every citizen is related as a member to his neighbour and to the city. So are all saints members in Christ and in the church, which is a spiritual eternal City of God; and when one is received into this City, he is said to be received into fellowship of the saints, and incorporated into, made a member of, Christ’s spiritual body. . . . Thus to receive this sacrament in bread and wine is naught else than to receive a sign of this fellowship and incorporation with Christ and all his saints.” That sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Like a nice hand out? But it does entail struggle, hard work, of a certain, grace-filled, sort. Thus Luther also says that in a community, in a city, “suffering and sin are shared in common, and so love is kindled from love. In the sacrament God gives us help against sin, as though he were to say: See, thou art troubled by manifold sins; receive then this sign, whereby I assure thee that thy sin troubles not thee alone, but also my Son Christ and all his saints in heaven and on earth. Therefore be comforted, and be of good courage; thou fightest not alone; strong help and succour are around thee.”[1]

Today, I must add in closing, as we remember the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, those in other countries, and those in this country, can still, I am afraid, be tempted by Satan to say, it was for the sins of New York City, perhaps of Wall Street, that that place of decadence, of perversion, God visited and scourged. New York City is that very sort of place that, perhaps, before 9/11 some Christians might have called a cesspool of HIV, a kind of Sodom and Gomorrah, the sort of place that God would visit with great affliction. But on that day, no Christian that I knew was saying, God has smitten that place – because there was no doubt that, on that day, we were able to see those of the Big Apple as just people like those in our little slice of the pie, afflicted with sin, yes, but people who loved each other, were loved by many, and who showed love in the midst of suffering. On that day, it was a day to feel connected, the country with the city, to say “Lord, have mercy on us all”. The city and the country are, in fact, united, by prayer, by sin, by sacraments and Grace that overcome that sin – and this country, wherever Christians are, is united by bonds of glory – with that city and country above, where with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, Christ is the Lamp and Light, now and forever and unto the Ages of ages. Amen.     

[1] Luther’s Works, Weimar Edition, II. 743, 744.


Trinity 14, 2021 – Fr. Geromel

Coming off of last week’s sermon, where we learned about how the Samaritans (to this day) have a rival lineage of the Aaronic Priesthood, that they have claimed to be the true Priesthood, it is fascinating to see again a Samaritan in our Gospel lesson today. It is fascinating to see that this Samaritan must return to the Jewish Priesthood in order to be healed. As Christ told the woman at the well, Salvation is of the Jews, meaning that the Priesthood of the Holy Temple must be incorporated into any healing according to the Law of Moses and was incorporated until the Temple was destroyed. Definitely at that point, the Jews returned to their Synagogues and the Christians built temples, and these Christians continued the succession of Priesthood through Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, (being as the new High Priest, Priest, and Levite) according to the Order of Melchizedek (as we see in the Book of Hebrews). False priesthoods have existed for many centuries. In the Middle Ages, for example, there were the Cathari or Albigensians, the pure ones, who provided false priesthoods to the people of Europe. Today, there are the false priesthoods, for example, among the Mormons. We cannot return to these and be healed.

          Pseudo-Dionysius, writing in the fifth or sixth century, probably a Syrian monk, became important for the teaching of theology in both the East and West in the Middle Ages. He provides a rationale for Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, and how they heal by virtue of the sacramental life in his work, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. Here he says that “The divine order of hierarchs [the bishops] is therefore the first of those who behold God.” That sounds rather elitist, not very egalitarian, certainly not very Protestant, but it matches up perfectly with what he said in a previous work, The Celestial Hierarchy from which we get the nine choirs or orders of angels that we talk about and sing about in Hymn 599, “Ye watchers and ye holy ones, Bright seraphs, cherubims, and thrones . . .” Just as there are nine choirs of angels in heaven, so there are, roughly, nine orders of ministry on earth: Bishop, priest, deacon, subdeacon, acolyte, exorcist or catechist, lector and porter. (All of these minor orders still exist functionally in the Church of God, through the subdeacon/clerk or as we call it Epistoler, the acolyte, the exorcist exists, the catechist is the Sunday school teacher, the lector or chanter or cantor is a choir member, and the Porter or doorkeeper is an usher, someone who stands at the door.)

So, the bishops, closest to God in the hierarchy of how the divine illumination flows downward and outward, is like the higher orders of angels who stand closer to the face of God, and through whom the rest of the orders of angels receive their directives, and divine communications, messages, from the Holy Throne of Grace. Thus, “[The Order of Bishops] is the first and also the last, for in it the whole arrangement of the human hierarchy is fulfilled and completed. And just as we observe that every hierarchy ends in Jesus” (there is something the evangelical can get on board with!) “so each individual hierarchy reaches its term in its own inspired hierarch. The power of the order of hierarchs spreads throughout the entire sacred company” that is the sacred ministers “and it works special mysteries of its own hierarchy through all the sacred orders.” “The order of hierarchs” that is bishops “is that which fully possesses the power of consecration.” That is fully consecrates the holy oils, by which the priests, the deacons, the baptized, the altars, everything is anointed. It sounds bizarre to talk this way, but note in Exodus 29:7, the whole process begins with the anointing of Aaron with holy oil, and in Exodus 30 the Tabernacle of the Congregation, the Ark of Testimony, the Table, the instruments thereof, the Candlestick, and instruments thereof, the altar of incense, and all the priests are anointed. Then the description is given for this holy oil: “This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me, throughout your generations” and the recipe is given. The unity of the Faith, and the connectedness of the whole hierarchy is symbolized, revealed and sacramental by this holy oil. Pseudo-Dionysius is just maintaining a very Old Testament, priestly, consistency in the New Testament world. Remember Psalm 133, “Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, that ran down unto the beard, even unto Aaron’s beard, and went down to the skirts of his clothing.” The whole hierarchy of grace, flowing downward, from the Throne of Grace, is likened by David to the oil, the holy oil, which ran down the beard, and then down the fringes of Aaron’s garments.

He then speaks of the Priesthood: “It revealingly teaches others to understand, explaining their sacred things, proportionate characteristics, and their holy powers. The light-bearing order of priests guides the initiates to the divine visions of the sacraments. It does so by the authority of the inspired hierarchs [the bishops] in fellowship with whom it exercises the functions of its own ministry.” Then he describes the “order of deacons [which] purifies and discerns those who do not carry God’s likeness within themselves and it does so before they come to the sacred rites performed by the priests. It purifies all who approach by drawing them from all dalliance with what is evil. It makes them receptive to the ritual vision and communion. . . . during the rite of divine birth [baptism] it is the deacons who take away the postulant’s old clothes. It is they who untie [his sandals]. It is they who turn him west for the abjuration and then to the east, since theirs is the power of purification.” That is when they take the person about to be Baptized and turn him West so that he can renounce the devil and all his works, and spit upon the devil’s face, as in the older rites. “It is they who show him the darkness in which he has lived hitherto. It is they who teach him to leave the shadows and turn toward the light.”

          This is the word we have from the Lord in Galatians 5 today, turning away from the “works of the flesh” being purified, and turning toward the “fruit of the Spirit” which is implanted, nurtured, grown, and harvested in the sacramental life, through the purifying divine energy (Grace) channeled into it by God through the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. We say, well, this is an odd way of talking about it. But if you study the older rites of Baptism, Pseudo-Dionysius’ commentary on the rites of Holy Church make perfect sense. These sacraments were and are called the “Mysteries” the “Divine Mysteries” and those mysteries in the Catholic Faith were and are better than those found elsewhere in the Law of Moses, or in the Rites and Ceremonies of the Greeks. And the world recognized this, and came in to be one with Christ.

          Thus Justin Martyr, the Philosopher, (living earlier than Pseudo-Dionysius) turning away from Plato and towards Christ, spoke about this purification through instruction by the deacons, and says to the Greeks: “Henceforth, ye Greeks, come and partake of incomparable wisdom, and be instructed by the Divine Word, and acquaint yourselves with the King immortal . . . For our own Ruler, the Divine Word, who even now constantly aids us, does not desire strength of body and beauty of feature, nor yet the high spirit of earth’s nobility, but a pure soul, fortified by holiness, and the watchwords of our King, holy actions, for through the Word power passes into the soul.” These are good words not just for the Greek of yesteryear but the American of today. Today, we build up beautiful bodies in gyms as Greeks did, and tear down the soul through lust, as the Greeks did. Today, we allow the works of the flesh to manifest themselves in private, so long as life is well-kempt on the surface. Today, we allow pornographic images to fly past our eyes, but tear down statues that are tributes to the good examples of those who have gone before, those who have exhibited the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance) against which, I should add, the laws of Nature, of Moses, nor of America have ever stood. Justin Martyr says this: “O trumpet of peace to the soul that is at war! O weapon that puttest to flight terrible passions! O instruction that quenches the innate fire of the soul! The Word exercises an influence which does not make poets: it does not equip philosophers nor skilled orators, but by its instruction it makes mortals immortal, mortals gods; and from the earth transports them to realms above Olympus.” He is saying that through Baptism and the Life of the Sacraments we become Saints, and Saints are higher and holier than the gods of Olympus. “Come, be taught; become as I am, for I, too, was as ye are. These have conquered me – the divinity of the instruction, and the power of the Word: for as a skilled serpent-charmer lures the terrible reptile from his den and causes it to flee, so the Word drives the fearful passions of our sensual nature from the very recesses of the soul; first driving forth lust, through which every ill is begotten – hatreds, strife, envy, emulations, anger, and such like. Lust being once banished, the soul becomes calm and serene. And being set free from the ills in which it was sunk up to the neck, it returns to Him who made it. For it is fit that it be restored to that state whence it departed, whence every soul was or is.”

          “Returns to Him who made it” – that is what the Samaritan does today. He obeys Christ, turning first to the Priests of the Old Dispensation of Grace, and away from the false priesthood of the Samaritans, and then turns from Old Dispensation to the New of Grace, by going back, in returning to Christ to give thanks. This was the task of the early Christians, as well. They needed folks to return to the truth, both Jews, Greeks, and Samaritans, and to be healed. That was the task of their preaching. We can and ought to do so again today. We should encourage the Muslim, Jew and Mormon, to turn from their false or eclipsed priesthoods, to the Truth, as it is in Christ, and to the priesthood of Christ embodied and anointed in the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith.   

Trinity 13, 2021 – Fr. Geromel

Today, I would like to ask the question, based upon our Gospel lesson today, who were the Priests as opposed to the Levites? And who were the Samaritans? The answer might surprise you. The answer might help us to discover a new and deeper understanding of the Epistle lesson today, and the role of the Law, versus the role of the Gospel, in Justifying us before God our Father, through the merits of Jesus Christ.

          To talk about the Priests and the Levites, as it turns out, is not to talk about a synonymous thing. Both are different groups of hereditary servants in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Bishop Whipple, the first Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, said this in 1875:

In all ages of the world there has been a visible Church. God originated it; He appointed the means of admission to its fellowship; He commissioned its officers; He ordained its mode of access to Himself. Man did not make the Church of God, and man has no authority to change it. In the earlier ages of the world, the head of the family was the Priest, and he had authority to offer the daily sacrifice. It pleased God to unite men into a closer bond of fellowship with Himself and with one another, he ordained the descendants of Abraham to be His covenanted people, and from the days of Moses to the coming of Jesus Christ that church consisted of the Jewish nation and strangers who had been adopted into it, and who had received the rite of circumcision. God appointed for this church a three-fold ministry – a High Priest, Priests, and Levites. He gave to it the law, the rites and ceremonies, and the sacrifices which pointed them to the mediation and atonement by the coming of His only begotten Son.[1]

So far Bishop Whipple. Now, as I’ve been saying, it turns out that the High Priests and Priests came from the sons of Aaron. However, the Levites were taken from the sons of Kohath, the sons of Gershon, and the sons of Merari. So the Levites were, in a sense, distinct clans from the Tribe of Levi. I am speaking here of what is recorded in Numbers chapter 3 (Geneva Bible). They had different tasks. “And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the Tabernacle of the Congregation, shall be the Tabernacle, and the pavilion, the covering thereof, and the veil of the door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation” (verse 25). Concerning the sons of Kohath, “And their charge shall be the Ark, and the Table, and the Candlestick, and the altars, and the instruments of the Sanctuary that they minister with, and the veil, and all that serveth thereto” (verse 31). “And in the charge and custody of the sons of Merari shall be the boards of the Tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and his pillars, and his sockets, and all the instruments thereof, and all that serveth thereto” (verse 36). Thus when the Priest passed by on the other side of the wounded man, and the Levite, presumably on their way up to Jerusalem to work in the Holy Temple, their tasks were quite different.

          Now the Samaritans, that’s where things get interesting. 1) it appears that Samaritans believe that the Pentateuch, the first five Books of the Bible, were corrupted by the Jews. They read it in what is called “Paleo-Hebrew” un-pointed, that is without traditional vowel markings added in the middle ages, with an earlier, less evolved, script or letters. 2) They claim to be from Joseph’s tribe, from his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as from the Levites. 3) The word “Samaritan” appears to be derived from the idea of “watchers,” “keepers” or “guardians” of the true Torah. 4) They worshiped, as you might be aware, on Mount Gerazim, where they believed God commanded them to worship in their version of the Pentateuch. They claimed that Eli, the same Eli that the 1 Book of Samuel says had corrupt sons, was himself corrupt, offering impure sacrifice, and that he moved from Mount Gerazim, where the Tabernacle had been placed by Joshua after entering the land of Canaan, to Shiloh, where Eli established an alternate place of sacrifice; according to the Samaritans, Eli usurped the High Priesthood. The Samaritan account says, “At this time the Children of Israel split into three factions. A loyal faction on Mount Gerazim; a heretical faction that followed false gods; and the faction that followed Eli son of Yafni in Shiloh.” Shiloh, of course, is where Samuel himself was trained and raised. Interestingly, Samuel was an Ephraimite, and was given a linen ephod and allowed to help Eli in the Temple at Shiloh. So this lends credence of sorts to the bizarre thing I am going to say, which is that the Samaritans claimed to have the true lineage of High Priests, according to their own records. Both the Priests and Levites (being very likely Sadducees) and the Samaritans used only the first five books of the Bible, and especially not the books such as the Prophets, which is what made them different from the Pharisees.

          Thus, when we come back to this story in the Gospel, we are tempted to see it in a light that we might not have seen before, that the Samaritan may have been from an alternate lineage of priesthood, claiming to be of the true lineage of the priesthood. (This was the case as well in the Essene community in which there was a hierarchy of officers, elders, priests and the bishop, or “mebaqqer” or “paqid”.) There is no positive evidence that this Samaritan in the gospel lesson was a priest, but the thing that distinguished this man from others was a different place of worship, and a different set of priests, and this should cause us to take notice when he is talked about next to a Priest and a Levite. A different place of worship, and a different set of priests, and yet God calls him the better example of loving one’s neighbor as oneself, which is the essence of the Law.

Jesus stands in the tradition of the Pharisees, while often criticizing them. The Pharisees, the tradition of the Rabbis, like the Essenes, didn’t think much of the Priesthood and the Pharisees certainly didn’t think much of the Samaritans. A lawyer, very likely a Pharisee, who would not have thought much about Priests and Levites (Sadducees) and Samaritans, neither of whom used anything but the first five books of the Bible, where the Law was found, is asked by Jesus to decide which one is more righteous – there is no Pharisee in the parable for the Lawyer to pick and point out as the most righteous. It’s like asking a Republican to decide who is more righteous, a Communist or a Democrat – nope, you can’t pick a Republican. For a Pharisaical studier of the Law, a Scribe or Lawyer, the Prophets and the Rabbis, were essential, were needed to understand the Law properly, but Sadducees and the Samaritans used neither. This gives us a sense of what we see in the Epistle, the Law cannot bring righteousness. The Pharisee might answer, yes the Law by itself cannot, for the Sadducees and Samaritans have it and are not righteous; yes, the Law by itself cannot, not without the tradition of the Rabbis and Prophets to interpret said Law. Paul, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, however, argues in Galatians today that it is not the interpretation of the Rabbis, Prophets, or anything else, but Jesus’ interpretation that matters, that all are under sin – the Pharisee, the Sadducee and the Samaritan. All three cannot bring themselves to atonement by being a following of the Law, because it has to be by Faith to them that Believe. There is no question that Jesus sided with the Sadducees and the Pharisees against the Samaritans, telling the woman at the well that true worshippers did not worship on the Samaritans’ sacrificial mount, but on the holy mountain of Jerusalem. There is no question that Jesus sided with the Pharisees against the Sadducees that there was an afterlife and the resurrection of the dead. Minute theological arguments are still important to Jesus. Yet all are concluded under sin, in order to be brought to Jesus.

          In Acts 6:7, it says, “And the word of God increased, and the number of the disciples was multiplied at Jerusalem greatly, and a great company of the Priests were obedient unto the faith.” So the Priests and Levites came into the Christian church to a noteworthy degree. Acts 8 says, “Now when the Apostles, which were at Jerusalem, heard say, that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John. Which when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Ghost.” The Samaritans and the gentiles were brought into the Christian church to a noteworthy degree. All were brought into the Kingdom, and set as the same and equal with Pharisees, for the Apostles were, almost to a man, zealots and pharisees. All the Pharisees needed to learn who was neighbor, because pretty soon their neighbors were going to start to join the Christian church. Soon their neighbors, who were unrighteous – in the eyes of the Pharisees – unclean even, were going to be brought into the Christian church. Jesus said to the women at the well, “believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain [Mount Gerazim], nor at Jerusalem worship the Father.” The Sadducees and Pharisees who joined the Christian church eventually ceased to worship at Jerusalem, the Samaritans who joined the Christian church eventually ceased to worship at Mount Gerazim. Having become convinced of their sinfulness, and distrusting their ability to keep the Law, they worshipped through Jesus Christ, to the Glory of God the Father. They then realized their true bond of being neighbors was Jesus Christ, realizing that they had all been a little bit wrong, and Jesus was right, by that they were righteous. Let us pray.

O Benignant King of ages and Master or all creation, receive Thy Church approaching Thee through Christ; fulfil for each of us what is good for him; bring us all to perfection, and make us meet for the grace of Thy sanctification, uniting us together in Thy Holy Church, which Thou hast purchased with the precious Blood of thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with Whom, and with Thine All-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, Thou art blessed and glorified forever. Amen.[2]

[1] Rt. Rev. H. B. Whipple, “Christian Unity,” (New York: Pott, Young & Co., 1875).

[2] Liturgy of St. James, as quoted in Bright’s Collects, 130.

Trinity 12, 2021

Some years ago, I gave up trying to give blood. It was when I was trying to give blood for the sake of a two year old in a community where I was serving. This was because my veins are horrible and the blood would not flow as it ought to do and the blood starts to harden faster than it was flowing. My veins are not easy to find in the first place but then they start moving the needle around in order to try to get a better flow and it hurts. Finally they just gave up. Now, that’s not much of a sacrifice, as you know. I do also have to answer questions. I have to have my finger poked so they can test the blood. Perhaps you have been through this. I went through all of that, all of the poking and the moving of a needle around in my arm, in order for nothing to happen.

          Now, I have to relate this for a moment to ministry. There are a bunch of things I had to do in order to get to the point where I could give blood. There are a bunch of things I couldn’t do before giving blood. The last time I tried to give I was asked, “Have you slept with any prostitutes”, I said no. I was asked, “Have you slept with any men”, I said, no. They asked, have you spent more than three months in the United Kingdoms, I said, “no, unfortunately”. All of these things, some innocent, others abominable, I did not do and I had good blood; then I get up there and just can’t give. What a disappointment. Having had bad experiences with drawing blood in the past, I had mental anxiety beforehand and still nothing happened.

And the same is true with the Ministry. There are a bunch of things that you have to do beforehand. There are a bunch of things you can’t do beforehand. And yet, having done all, you can get up there and preach and it is as God said to Isaiah, “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”

In our Gospel lesson today, once again, the people of Israel had closed ears and did not hear. God’s Son Jesus Christ had been preaching to the lost sheep of the House of Israel and some were listening and most were not. So here in our Gospel lesson, “Jesus, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.” Jesus was on a mission trip, first to “Tyre and Sidon” Phoenician cities of pagans and then to Decapolis, the ten cities of Greek pagans. There it is that he saw men bringing a deaf man with an impediment of speech and it was here that he opened up his ears so that he could hear.

Opening ears is a necessary prerequisite to hearing the Gospel. And the pagans needed their ears opened. Nothing else could be done without it. No progress in the spiritual lives of these righteous pagans could get done without the ears first being opened. Before drawing blood, my veins had to be opened up. No giving could be done first without it. And it hurt. The same was true in God’s son Jesus Christ. No giving could be done for us in terms of eternal life before God’s blood was pierced by the needle, the nails on his hands and his feet. And it hurt. All of that had to be done. Think of all the things Jesus could not do. All the prostitutes he had to minister to and be tempted by and all the things that he could not go and touch because they were unclean and would have made this Lamb of God an unclean sacrifice for us. It would have made his blood unclean and it would not have then been the perfect blood transfusion for us his children.

When we speak of the blood transfusion to us, his little lambs, we are speaking of that Holy Eucharist in which Christ’s spiritual sacrifice is made present to us. The Holy Eucharist is a blood transfusion in which by ingestion his blood spiritually preserves us unto eternal life when our own blood is mortal and will kill us, eventually. It’s a spiritual dialysis. Yes, we all need a blood transfusion and it is the Sacrifice of the Mass, a spiritual presence of Jesus Christ taken and received by earthly ingestion of bread and wine which preserves us unto eternal life. When I say the words, “the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto eternal life” I am speaking of a blood transfusion of a spiritual nature. Our own bad blood is always being let out of our veins as the sands of time allow our mortal lives to come to their natural close. Somehow we must put something back in before the hour glass is empty, something which will preserve us for eternity.

Is this not a glorious way for us to be given eternal life? Is this not a medical procedure from heaven itself? How else would the Lord desire for us to attain eternal life but by being given this medicine for our spiritual well being? Paul says to us today, “For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” The ministration of condemnation was the sacrifice of the in which priests endlessly offered the sin offering of goats and sheep and they poured the blood out at the base of the altar. The Jews were not allowed to partake of the blood of the animals because the blood was the life and Jesus Christ was the only blood that they should ever partake in. And we should never partake in anything else. Why would we wish to become vampires, as those Satanic cults, Voodoo and Wicca allow their followers to partake in the blood of sacrifice for the mark of the Beast? The Jews were not asked to do so. Blood must be ingested to replace the blood which is necessarily bad by the offence which Adam committed in Paradise. And God does not wish us to do that which is revolting. He allowed the Jews a sacrifice which atoned for their sins in an incomplete way without drinking blood and he offers us his life-giving blood without the necessity of tasting of the physical blood which flowed down the hard wood of the Cross. He gives us blood which tastes sweet and pleasant to the tongue.

Oh how gracious is our God that He gives his atoning blood in the sweet fermentation of grapes! For I know if it were a choice between eternal death or eternal life we would all be willing to lick up the blood pools which sat by the knees of Mary and John as they knelt beneath that Cross on Calvary. Yet he does not want us to partake of the fruit of that unhappy day, but in dignity and celebration to partake of it with a handful of friends on a beautiful Sunday morning. The sun streams softly through the windows and it is not devilishly darkened as on that day of Crucifixion. The wind does not blow as on that day and if it does we are sheltered by walls. The earth does not quake, hades is not opened; an invisible hand does not rip the curtain of this Holy Temple. Such is our great High Priest that He offers us a banquet fit for a king and not the execution meant for a criminal. How delicious is that spiritual presence of God in the cup of blessing which we bless in His name! It is such that instead of being repulsed our mouths water at the sight and we wish to taste again and again of this happy cup. It is said, that “a little sugar makes the medicine go down” and so it is on this happy morning.

   And there is no end to this banquet, beloved. There is no want of wine. The psalmist saith, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than when their corn and wine and oil increase.” This banquet, this delicious cough medicine of our Lord’s making, does not end, though we should not dare to take it gluttonously, just a sip will do. We pray today, “Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ . . .” God is always ready to hear our supplication that He change the bread and wine we place before him into the Body and Blood of his Son. God is ready always to pour down the abundance of His mercy. The needle has been stuck into his precious sacrificial body and He the Great High Priest is always ready to open the vein wider so as to let the mercy flow in abundance. Once the vein is pierced, once the needle is in, it is not a big deal to give out His blood constantly.

This is how it is. He was willing to go through all the prerequisite work in order to make this blood transfusion possible. He was willing to go through the trials of standing under the hard Law of Moses perfectly. He was willing to stand before Pontius Pilate. He was willing to carry that hospital litter, that heavy cross, to the top of Golgotha. He was willing to allow the nail to pass through his hand and into the wood behind. He was willing to do all this for just one of us, for any one of us, for the greatest of all sinners or the saintliest of all the children of men. Once it was done, the blood transfusion was set up. And we have the hook up. And we might as well tap into it as much as God gives us bidding to his supper.

I remember my disappointment that I went through so much and was not able to give blood to help a child with a blood transfusion. What a disappointment to God when He sent His Son to die and we refuse to receive His precious living-giving Blood with thanksgiving and celebration. Would you not weep over such a refusal if you were God?


The Assumption of Mary – welcoming a relic of St. Spyridon

Today, you will notice that we have a new pulpit standing between the altar rails and the pews, that I found in an antiques store in Wytheville, and which Vestry was kind enough to vote to pay for. The lectern has also been moved down, and to the other side from the pulpit, between the altar rails and the pews. This provides the traditional Anglican (and universal) division of nave, chancel, and sanctuary – even if there isn’t room in the chancel for a choir. An important aspect of this division in the church is that you then have the proclamation of the word standing in front of (and prior to) the reception of the word in sacraments. As a faithful communicant, you move past the reading and preaching of the audible word, to the reception of the tangible word at the altar rails. Archbishop Cranmer wrote: “For as the word of God preached putteth Christ into our ears, so likewise these elements of water, bread, and wine, joined to God’s word, do after a sacramental manner put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses.” The angelic and prophetic proclamation of word in the chancel (by preachers, lay readers, and sometimes choir) is what we move past on our way towards the celestial city, since the altar rails mark the symbolic delineation between heaven and earth. 

“And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” Acts 19:12

We wish today to speak a few words concerning the new relic that has been brought to our altar. Fr. Trent, at our sister church of St. Leonard’s in Keystone, West Virginia, when he was a western rite Russian Orthodox priest, was given two pieces of St. Spyridon’s shoes. St. Spyridon was a Bishop in Cyprus, a shepherd, who became a bishop, around the time of the First Ecumenical Council, which he attended. He died about 350 A.D. Oddly enough, his body, now kept on the island of Corfu, is incorrupt. Meaning that is his body is decayed, but not at that level of decay that one should expect after 1500 years, and his flesh still maintains a certain amount of flexibility. More strange indeed is the fact that the shoes with which he is clothed continue to wear away, as if being worn on a regular basis. When those shoes do wear out, they are sent out as relics to various places. Fr. Trent received two of these from his Orthodox bishop, when he only needed one, and so decided that he might endow us with one of the two. Our parish, which has had no relics, should rejoice in now having what is called a “third class relic,” one that has touched, like the handkerchiefs and aprons in the Book of Acts, a saint. Will it work miracles? Only time will tell. As you might imagine, I want to speak a few minutes about the significance and theological importance of relics.

          Like so many things as Anglican Catholics, on this subject we are called to nice and careful distinctions. The Affirmation of St. Louis, our founding and guiding document, makes us inheritors of the Holy Tradition of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. We are Conciliar Christians and Catholics, rather than Papal Christians. I want to quote a minute from Fr Munday, sometime Dean of Nashotah House seminary, in his tract on the Seven Ecumenical Councils. He says: “Specifically, with regard to relics, the Seventh Ecumenical Council affirmed the following:

Let relics of the Holy Martyrs be placed in such churches as have been consecrated without them, and this with the accustomed prayers. But whoever shall consecrate a church without these shall be deposed as a transgressor to the traditions of the Church.

“This canon must be understood within its historical context. In this period, those who were establishing churches without relics were usually either schismatics or heretics. Having access to obtain the relic of a saint and including it in the construction of a new church indicate that the congregation was in communion with the wider Church and under the authority of a bishop who stood in apostolic succession. The presence of a saint’s relic in the church was like a ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ and indicated that the congregation was a valid part of the orthodox and catholic Church.” You see, early on, during the days of Persecution, there was a sense in which, if you didn’t have martyrs you hadn’t stood for the Faith, you’d waffled, lost your “candle” as the Book of Revelation put it. Then later, those churches who had been established since the days of Persecution and those churches who had turned back to Orthodoxy after waffling under pressure, were assured of their status as part of the Universal Church by receiving parts of bodies of those who had suffered for the Faith, and often died for the Faith, and, later, had clearly proclaimed the Faith even though they never had to give their lives for it – still they had clearly been willing to do so.

          Now, a distinction should be made for clarity’s sake: This disciplinary canon is not required of us as Anglican Catholics; just as Orthodoxy today does not require all disciplinary canons to still be followed, neither do we. When we say we stand for the Seven Ecumenical Councils as Anglican Catholics we mean that we stand for the theological statements of those councils, not every jot and tittle of them. For example, according to some of those disciplinary canons, I could not, as a clergyman, go into a bar with you. I could not marry a woman who had been a waitress in a bar, or even an actress. Now you can see, immediately, why there might have been a time and a place when such a disciplinary canon made sense – but, of course, despite sounding fundamentalist, even today an Orthodox priest can go into a bar, can marry a girl who in her college days had served a beer, or even played in a high school musical. This canon concerning having a relic in every church no longer applies, but we can see the historical point and are happy to follow the same today by welcoming this relic into our midst.

          Another point should be made, with another distinction: Relics are a natural part of human connection but expecting miracles to happen every time we have a relic is above and beyond what we should expect as humans. To the first point, I was sitting in a doctoral class at Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in an environment where they distinctly disagree with the Seventh Ecumenical Council and have zero tolerance for icons, and yet, all around me are pictures of John Calvin, or of other Scottish divines, or of glorious battles fought by Scotsmen for the sake of religious freedom. Pictures of heroes are natural and innocuous in God’s eyes. So are relics. In the middle of a class the professor came back to lecture from a break and set a fedora down on the table and was delighted to tell us that this hat had belonged to none other than the great Princeton Divine and founder of Westminster Seminary and of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, J. Gresham Machen. I immediately pointed out, jokingly, but seriously, that what he was showing us was a “third class relic” even though he would be aghast to think of it that way. He smiled. To the second point and distinction, there are many, many relics in this world that have never wrought any miracles. In my family we have two first class (bones) relics and a second class (something actually worn by the saint) relic. No miracles have really ever occurred in my family due to these that we know of. They simply remain a bond of friendship, and outward sign of the communion of saints, and a delight to tell people about. Yet, occasionally, according to Scripture, miracles do happen, as in the case of Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons, and in the Old Testament, 2 Kings 13: “And Elisha died, and they buried him. . . . And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood upon his feet.”

          Today we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a saint of whose relics we have none, of which nobody has any. The very meaning of “assumption” is that God took to Himself the Blessed Virgin Mary, not leaving any portion of her to be venerated, or divided up for the faithful. This is similar to what happened with Moses and Elijah. There is no known burial place for them. Again there is nothing unscriptural about the fact that Mary, by Tradition, like Moses and Elijah (explicitly) by Scripture and Tradition, has never had a burial place.

          There is a more practical statement that I would like to make about the nature of any relic in our lives, of which you know doubt have some. All of you have an heirloom, a relic, from a relative, a picture, an icon, of an ancestor. But there are two things that spell trouble, two sides of the coin in regards to this: One is getting rid of too much, the other is hoarding. Hoarding is an inability to have a healthy grieving process, to be unable to let the past go. Getting rid of too much, is the other immoderation that says that you, too, cannot come to terms with the past. We all know of the horror scenarios from movies and television – rooms that have never been touched since someone has died, or even a corpse of mom kept somewhere. In either case, we have to look at ourselves. In the time of the Reformation, ironically, Luther’s patron the Elector of Saxony, was a hoarder of relics. Before the Reformation was over, far too many people swung in the opposite direction, and got rid of too many relics. Wittenberg, which housed a great collection of relics before the Reformation, was suddenly descended upon by misguided folks, who sought to destroy all the images and statues in that town. Puritans, by their very attempt to get back to the early Church and ignore Church History, must demolish icons and relics because they cannot come to terms with, or reconcile their theological positions with actual Church History. I speak of folks I genuinely love who make this mistake, and it sounds harsh, but it is true.

The same thing can be true of Mary. You meet with Roman Catholics, and others, who want to talk about Mary more than about Jesus. This ought not to be so, and Mary never would have wished it, and even at this moment in the presence of Christ, she does not wish it. She says instead, “Do as He tells you,” “Ponder His miracles in your hearts” and “Be it unto me according to His will.” On the other hand you have folks who don’t want to talk about how precious Mary is, so precious that God of His great goodness allowed her to fall asleep and then made the place of her burial, or the abode of her abiding maidenhood, exceptionally mysterious – lest they sound like Roman Catholics. Concerning both, our rhetoric and our example should be moderation, healthy esteem for the saints, without possessiveness or expecting them to do something for us, as if God can’t do something for us better than mere creatures, albeit mere creatures who have become a delightful repository of His grace; healthy veneration of the relics and of icons and of Mary, without expecting that by possessing such we have power apart from Christ, or a greater hold on Him. He is no respecter of persons, and He desires and demands from us holy lives more than that we purchase holy objects. Only if they lead us to greater holiness are these objects of any proper use. There is no healthy power apart from Christ and to Him be Glory, now and forever and unto the Ages of ages. Amen.         


Trinity 10, 2021 – Blessed John Mason Neale

“And he taught daily in the temple.” Today, in the life of the Church we gratefully remember the faith and witness of John Mason Neale who lived between 1818-1866. It is said of him

. . . while an undergraduate at Cambridge, [he] was influenced by the ideas of the Tractarians. He was founder of the Cambridge Camden Society, which stimulated interest in ecclesiastical art and which played a part in the revival of Catholic ritual in the Church of England. While Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, a post he held from 1846, Neale founded the Society of Saint Margaret, which grew into one of the largest of Anglican women’s religious communities. Neale is remembered as an accomplished hymn writer and his influence on Anglican worship has been considerable. He suffered frail health for many years and died on the Feast of the Transfiguration 1866.[1]

I first remember hearing about J.M. Neale, or rather coming face to face with him, as he stared back at me from a photograph, on the cover of a book, displayed at the gift shop at Canterbury Cathedral. It was in this shop that we purchased, as I recall, the BBC series of Trollope’s The Warden and Barchester Towers. The irony is that I sometimes wonder if Trollope didn’t partly base his character, Mr Harding, after J.M. Neale. Both the fictional Mr Harding, a Warden for Hierome’s Hospital, a retirement home for retired Woolcarters, and J.M. Neale, as Warden of Sackville College, which isn’t an academic position – no it is an almshouse to house poor folks – were subjects of political trials and tribulations. The real J.M. Neale was inhibited by his bishop for fourteen years because of his High Church views. That is to say, he could serve there at that college, but not anywhere else in the diocese.  

There are three points I would like to draw out from our gospel lesson today,

  • Jesus beheld the city of Jerusalem and wept.
  • Jesus prophesied the doom and destruction of the city.
  • Jesus said it was because they did not know the time of their visitation, meaning his visit.
  • He cleansed the Temple.
  • Even though he knew it was going to be destroyed, Jesus went back and “taught daily in the temple.”

Similar to the time in which Jesus lived, and our time, the time when J.M. Neale lived, matters were at a low ebb. The Church was strong in the 19th century – at least the invisible church. Evangelicals were not too concerned with the outward state of the Church, of the church buildings. They were concerned with their inward piety – and this was a good thing. But the Tractarians saw the low ebb of the outward Church, and like Jesus, wept over it. They could see the effects of civil religion. That is to say, they could see the effects that the Church of England, being a Church for an English Nation, and only that, would have. They could prophetically see the rise of Nationalism, which would culminate in multiple empires colliding over multiple colonies, and lead, eventually to World War. They sought to explain that the Church of England, as a branch of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, was to be a Church, to have, as our Epistle lesson today says, “diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” “Differences of administrations, but the same Lord.” “Diversities of operations, but . . . the same God which worketh all in all.” It was to be a Church Militant, but part of, not in opposition to, the Church of France, or the Church of Italy, or Spain, or the Princedoms of the Astro-Hungarian Empire.

          Another way to talk about Visitation is to talk about the idea of God’s Visitation in Sickness. This was Neale’s lot in life. His father, a late vocation to the ministry, hardly made it a year as a clergyman before being snuffed out from consumption, like some other male relatives. Neale, taking a post when a deacon as a tutor as well as a chaplain at Downing College, Cambridge, hardly lasted more than a year. Then he tried to be a curate, started to be a curate, and a few weeks later, the bishop refused to license him. He then became an incumbent, a rector we might say, and lasted just a few weeks before having a fright due to chronic lung disease himself. So he resigned his living, married the girl he was engaged to, and they took off (on mom’s money) to warmer climates. Not a great start in the ministry! Returning, he became the Warden, where he stayed the rest of his life. He never got to be the parish priest that he dreamed of being, but he recognized God’s Visitation, God’s hand, that God would do something else with him that he had not seen coming. And the Church has never been the same since.

          Jesus cleansed the Temple, and so did these Tractarians and Ritualists. There was a difference between this high church movement at Oxford, the Tractarians, from the one at Cambridge – which was the hotbed of Ritualism, rather than Tractarianism. What was the difference? One author put it this way: “The Tractarians may be said to be concerned with the recovery of Catholic concepts and doctrines within the devotional and intellectual life of the Church of England, whereas Neale and his friends were concerned with the expression of dogma in the architectural symbolism of both extant and newly-erected buildings.”[2] You see in his Camden Society, he and his friends were working to undo just what we have been talking about in our Sunday school class on colonial churches. Box pews, that showed your status in society, and showcased you, but which left you without being able to even see the altar, or adequately hear the word of God preached from the pulpit. Chancels so small and inadequate that you ended up storing your hat inside the altar rails, in the sanctuary space, or so little reverence for the altar that a churchwarden would think nothing of getting up on the altar to open a window in the middle of a service. Yes, these mighty men worked long and hard to cleanse the temple outwardly, while preaching the word of God to cleanse it inwardly. You see the fruits of it today, whenever you see a gothic revival church, a high altar, a beautiful altar rail, or rood screen, even in a Methodist or Presbyterian or Lutheran Church, these things could not have been without J.M. Neale and his friends. You say, well what does the outward building matter? Hear the Word of God on that subject from Nehemiah 2: “And I arose in the night . . . And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass.” Jerusalem needed rebuilding, outwardly, as well as inwardly in the time of Nehemiah.

          But here’s the important thing, as I said in the beginning. When all was done, and all had wept, and all had cleansed, they went back and “taught daily in the Temple.” It wasn’t for the sake of aesthetics only that they went uphill, against the tide, culturally. It was not for the sake of saving the music program for posterity, only. It wasn’t for the sake of keeping the artists out of the gutters, only. They went back, as their Lord had given them example, and the “taught daily in the Temple.” By reviving daily services, continuing to preach evangelical sermons, with a Catholic tone, by rededicating themselves as priests, both of altar and of pulpit. John Mason Neale was just one man, among many men, that God called at that time, to raise the standards high again. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretations of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” “And he taught daily in the temple.” Let us pray.

Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy holy Apostles many excellent gifts, and didst charge them to feed Thy flock; Give grace, we beseech Thee, to all Bishops, and Pastors of Thy Church, that they may diligently preach Thy Word, and duly administer the godly Discipline thereof; and grant to the people, that they may obediently follow the same; that all may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.       

[1] Celebrating the Saints, 252.

[2] Michael Chandler, The Life and Work of John Mason Neale, 29.


Trinity 9, 2021

“But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”

The question I would like task in the sermon is: How did the father’s righteousness possibly contribute to the return of the prodigal son? It is a subject requiring much delicacy, because the automatic assumption which goes with such an essay is that if one’s child has not returned yet, then one must lack righteousness and be a sinner. That is a somewhat vexing question, because much of the theology of the Old Testament, none of which has been changed in the New, indicates that this is in some sense the case. Remember that they said of Our Lord Jesus Christ when he healed, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” “Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness” said the Archangel Raphael in the Book of Tobit. In the Book of Tobit, Raphael explains, “When you and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One; and when you buried the dead, I was likewise present with you. When you did not hesitate to rise and leave your dinner in order to go and lay out the dead, your good deed was not hidden from me… So now God sent me to heal.” I would also like to cite Genesis, “And [Abraham] believed the Lord; and [the Lord] reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

               Now, first of all, we must make the distinction between sinner and sinner, between sins of omission and sins of commission. Sin is, at its root, not believing fully and not being grateful, fully. Sin is a radical thing which manifests itself in little things. Sin, as a lack of believing, a lack of Faith, is an obstacle to complete prayer. And so, it is logical that the Lord cannot listen to the prayers of sinners, because prayer without believing is not prayer. So, if we have a loved one, who has not returned yet, there is a possibility that we lack Faith and thus are “sinners” in the Old Testament sense of things.

               Second of all, we cannot rightly give glory to God for the return of a loved one, without first being ready to receive the blessing of that return. Otherwise, we may miss the blessing and God is not glorified in the return of a sinner that does not give glory to his Grace. And so, we must be ready to receive the blessing of a returned loved one before it is truly a blessing. As has already been stated, lack of gratitude is sin and so when we are not ready to receive the blessing, we are still, in the omission sense, in a state of sin. God is not doing us any favors in returning our loved ones to us until we are ready.

               Furthermore, we must distinguish between our prayer and righteousness contributing to the return of a loved one and our prayer causing the return of a loved one. There is a great difference between contributing to and causing. “Causing” implies a summation of the whole contribution and contribution, of course, is simply a partial cause. To believe that our prayer constituted the summa causa of the return of a loved one would be pretty arrogant and would constitute sin on our part, and God could never allow us to be so deluded if he loved us. So, I think, when Archangel Raphael states, “Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness” we must understand that none of our prayer is perfect, and is often still filled somewhat with sin. St. John of Kronstadt said concerning this:

. . . Asking for things is not, in the last resort, real prayer; at best it is an inferior kind of prayer. Adoration, contemplation, contrition, and so on – these are real, or at least much better, prayer. Asking is too self-centered, or at least too man-centered, is too primitive a form of praying to be other than the very bottom rung of the ladder, and he or she who would really pray, who would really take prayer seriously, must pass beyond it.

And I think that we can generally say that although praying, fasting, almsgiving, and other righteous acts are all imperfectly done by us humans, when they are done by us in combination, it makes the prayer better, in that it means we are all the more ready to receive the blessing when God answers the prayer.

               Do you see how we are not speaking of works righteousness, if we speak in terms of our readiness to receive what God has given to us? Nevertheless, all of this may be in place, and yet our loved one does not return. I am, of course, relying on Scripture references such as Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” thus making the assumption that generally the prodigal will return. So what are we to say when the loved one does not return? We say that we do not know how long the father in today’s Gospel was ready and waiting. He may have been ready to receive the blessing of his son’s return for six months, a year, six years, maybe twenty years. I guess we say the same thing here as we would for a young person who believes he or she is truly ready to receive the blessing of a spouse – “Maybe you are ready but the other party is not ready yet.” The father may have been ready but the prodigal son wasn’t. And here we insert the fact that, if our prayer and righteousness is contributing to the return only, there have to be other contributing causes that have taken place before the return happens. So we must wait, and wait, and wait, trying not to worry, trying not to fret, trying not to be anxious (because anxiety is lack of faith and sin) wondering when the loved one will return to the Lord.

               I have two things to say about this: 1) we are directed by St. Paul to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling.” This means, in terms Kierkegaard would like, we must be knights of faith who stand on the brink of insanity, being faithfully intensely prayerful (never anxious); beseeching God that he would return our loved ones to us and to himself. This is the cross we must bear in wishing our loved ones back again. We must be ready to sacrifice everything and constantly refine and purge ourselves by God’s Grace in case it is something lacking in us which is impeding this reconciliation. We are, no doubt, simultaneously drawn into constant prayer on behalf of the one who is not yet ready to be reconciled (and in cases of a broken relationship, we must pray that we and the other party are both made ready for the reconciliation.) This is good, because it is an impetus for more prayer and for more good works which refine our souls. It seems to me that when St. John of Kronstadt says that prayer for things is something selfish, it must be understood that the prayer of a Christian should mean that we are not seeking after something simply personal, but rather that, like good Christians, we see the big picture and pray for more than just our little slice of the pie. We pray ultimately for and with the whole communion of saints and with the angels. We pray that we and the whole world might be delivered from this present age and made ready for the age to come. It would, after all, be rather selfish if we knew by foreknowledge that the Titanic was going to crash and instead of praying that the whole ship be delivered, we only prayed that our relatives be delivered. In praying for the salvation of the whole world, we naturally include prayer for our own friends, but do so in ways closer to the nature of Christ himself and that can only make the prayer better (read that: “more mature”) prayer.

               2) I believe that it behooves us to keep in mind that the phrases, “Make one’s peace with God” and “Deathbed Conversion” do not come into the English parlance out of a vacuum, but have their birth in a true pastoral reality. That reality is that for all the years Christianity has been around, folks have often not become reconciled until the end of their lives. Therefore, if we are speaking of those younger than us, especially our children, we may not see their reconciliation. We may never be able to bring them to our loving arms like the father in today’s Gospel lesson and sing with them in church the way we once did when they were younger. Unfortunately, for many who have strayed from the way of righteousness, for many such children, their parents do outlive them. Certainly the prodigal son may well have died had he not returned to his father’s house. Every man must die and that deathbed experience can be a time of reconciliation especially if we are constantly looking for the right times to bring in the right people. A priest is trained to minister to those dying and prepare them for that end. It is good if we are always ready to call up a priest, not only for our children, but for other people’s children, no matter what age they are. They were, of course, somebody’s children. Making certain that a priest is brought in when somebody is dying, if at all possible, is a work of mercy and will be counted to you for righteousness.

               If we are blessed to live to see the reconciliation of a loved one, what are we to expect? We have to expect to have the good with the bad. If they have moved away from home and move back, we have to live with our children (or children with their parents) once again. There is some good in that and some bad. The prodigal son had both good things and bad things. He may have gotten a nice cloak and a nice ring and a fatted calf, but he also had already squandered his inheritance. He still had connected himself with harlots. He may have had diseases from living in filth and in brothels. King Saul, when he became estranged from the Lord, became oppressed by an evil spirit, but he also gained a great son-in-law, David, from whose line would come the savior of the whole world. David, when he sinned with Bathsheba, was promised that the sword would not depart from his household, right down to the sword which pierced Mary’s heart at the Crucifixion. But from his connection with Bathsheba came not only King Solomon, the wisest king, but from his connection with Bathsheba came Christ himself. We must be prepared for the good with the bad when the reconciliation has happened.

               The final reconciliation, beloved, has none of this sorrow in it. The final reconciliation, that final deliverance from this present age which our deep prayer as the Communion of Saints is helping to fulfill, will deliver us from the bad side to our many blessings. It shall no longer be the good with the bad, but the good with the good, and the even greater blessing heaped upon every blessing. These blessings shall no longer be worked out in fear and trembling, but worked out in peace and safety. We shall no longer be concerned about what is lacking in our Faith, for our Faith will be confirmed and we shall not be lacking anything at all.  


St. James Day, July 25th, 2021

“But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

We come to this day commemorating our Father and Apostle among the Saints, St. James, the brother of John and the son of him called “Zebedee.” They were both renamed by Jesus, “Sons of Thunder.” We are not sure the reason for this name, but it may have had to do with their personalities. Although, to be sure, we are given much of St. John’s personality in his Gospel and three Epistles, but it does not appear especially fiery or thunderous. St. John is tough, but not temperamental; bold, but not belligerent; solemn and sober, expressing God’s sovereignty without acting sovereign himself. Perhaps this is the ‘thunder’ of their characters.

            For a Christian, thunder is not so much a ruckus as a rumble; the storm cloud is on the horizon. The prophet and seer of God’s oracles does not want to be right in his prophecies, he wishes he were wrong. When Samuel anointed a king, did he want his prophecy to be correct; did he wish the Israelite kings to become corrupt as his prophecy foretold? Did Isaiah wish for the captivity of Israel? Did Jerusalem wish to lament over fallen Jerusalem? Did Daniel desire that Babylon should fall to the northern Barbarians? Only Jonah, perhaps, wished the destruction of Assyria, but then it did not happen. But for the most part, prophets wish that they were wrong.

            The thunder of James and John was to rumble throughout the horizon in the words they preached by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Psalm 19: 4 says, “Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words into the ends of the world.” They did not rumble to set a house on fire, or to catch a field in flames, but to build up the Church of God; to sanctify and order a house, not by destructive flames, but by the flaming fire of the Holy Spirit. Such is the work of a prophet of God. Prophets may be called warmongers, seeing the storm clouds of destruction afar off, but they never wish for pain and suffering and starvation to come. They wish rather that the people of God would hear and act, hear the Word of God and act upon it, changing their hearts to be in line with the thoughts and desires of their Lord God.

            One must be aware of one of the stark warnings in today’s Gospel: “the mother of Zebedee’s children [came]… and saith unto [Jesus], ‘Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.’” Nothing is more in contrast with the Gospel than these well-meant words by a good woman of Israel, a good woman who would see Christ to the end, who, as it turns out, was there at the Crucifixion. Christ, however, is not angry. First he uses it to test the faith of the Sons of Thunder. “Are ye able?” he asks, to drink of and be baptized with Christ’s own blood? They answer, “We are”. They take an oath at that moment. He uses it also as a learning lesson. He uses it to show the Apostles what the basis of leadership is. This is a lesson Christ tries to drive home again and again.

            The basis of satanic cults is this: 1) Come to me all ye that are special and special abilities and I will give to you special knowledge. 2) I shall set over you a burden which you cannot bear. 3) I shall then hold that burden over your head and make you my slave. This good woman of Israel does not know it, but she is burdening her sons with something which they cannot bear on their own without God’s good grace. First, she is setting her sons up as special, and as a teaching lesson Christ asks if the burden is something they can bear. Christ then shows to us the result of such a line of reasoning, “the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.” This is the way of the occult and pagan society. The Occult’s line of reasoning is this: Do you wish to be bright and shiny and glisten in the sun and sit at the right hand of the ineffable, mysterious Supreme God for all eternity? This can only happen if you are special. If you are special then you can bear such and such a burden. Once you struggle under that heavy burden, then you are my slave – because you need my help, or because you fall into corruption being under extreme pressure, and then you owe me.

            Christ breaks the power of paganism in this one example. Yes, you may be baptized in the same baptism in which I am baptized, says Christ, but so can every other man. Yes, you may sit with God eternally in the heavenly realms, but because of that free gift of Grace which God bestows on all them who are endowed with a rational soul and made in the Image of God. Yes, you may bear that burden, because that burden is now a light yoke, made easy by the Cross of Christ. Yes, you are special because I made you. You are special because I made you special and not because you are special. Yes, through Christ’s action in the Incarnation, on the Cross, and through the Resurrection, we are given a blessed liberty, a liberty of servanthood and ministry, a liberty of dominion through discipleship, a liberty of servant leadership, of ignoble nobility and unspecial speciality, and it is a paradox and it is hard to understand, but we have all of our Christian lives to learn it. We have it through Christ, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:20).

            This is why our thunder is thunderless, if we are sons of God and cry to the Father using that blessed word, “Abba.” Again as Psalm 19 says, “There is neither speech nor language; but their voices are heard among them [another paradox!]. Their sound is gone out into all lands; and their words into the ends of the world.” This is the quiet which cannot be kept silent. The voice of Christ before Pilate, led like a dumb sheep before his shearers, speaking only a few words, words the gravity of which could never ever be overstated and the blaze of which will never be put out: “Thou sayest that I am a king.” Yes, these were the words spoken before Pilate. “Thou sayest”. Christ affirms Pilate’s words and then as soon as words are unnecessary then silence once again. These are the words of the martyrs. “Will you burn incense before the Emperor’s Image, Will you deny Christ, Will you spit on the image of the Crucified one?” – Silence, Rebuke of the persecutors without words, contempt without speech. Some words are spoken, certainly, but no more than are absolutely necessary. This is the thunderless thunder and the silent speech – to speak only when necessary and to keep quiet as long as possible and to pray to God long and hard before saying anything at all.

            “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.” Today, God shows us that the real leader is the one who treats all people with that deference and silence and careful choice of words, which we often choose when speaking to someone with authority over us. This is one difference between the secular world and our Christian one. In the secular world, the pagans believe that they will be heard for their “much saying” and their “vain babblings”. In the Christian world, the leader is a servant who speaks as little as possible and then carefully, prayerfully, and prudently.           

Let us pray,

Grant, O Lord, that, as Thine Apostle Saint James readily obeyed the calling of Thy Son Jesus Christ, we may by Thy grace be enabled to forsake all worldly and carnal affections and to follow Him alone; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.[1]        

[1] Traditional Lutheran Hymnal, 92.


July 4th Weekend

Thy kingdom is an everlasting / kingdom, * and thy dominion endureth throughout all / ages.

In preparation for today’s sermon, I decided to research the Homily, in three parts, called “Against Willful Rebellion.” This Homily is from the Book of Homilies, appointed to be read from the English pulpits word for word during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I. The Homily “Against Willful Rebellion,” as you might guess is specifically condemning rebelling against the English monarch. It equates the act of rebelling with the first sin in the Garden of Eden, with the sinfulness of Satan.

          Of Rebellion, the Homily says, “If … all subjects that mislike of their prince should rebel, no realm should ever be without rebellion.” Point taken. It asks, “What if the prince be undiscreet and evil indeed, and it also evident to all men’s eyes that he so is? … Shall you hear the Scriptures concerning this point? God, say the holy Scriptures, maketh a wicked man to reign for the sins of the people. Again, God giveth a prince in his anger, meaning an evil one, and taketh away a prince in his displeasure . . .” So, it is no surprise then, given this anti-Sedition theology, that by the end of the War for American Independence, many of the clergymen of the Church of England, the Established Church in many colonies before the Revolution, had fled to England or Canada. So, no wonder, “At the war’s end, there were but five priests in New Jersey, four in Massachusetts, one in New Hampshire, and none in Rhode Island or Maine.” But we quickly rallied again. After the Revolution, when the first bishops of the Episcopal Church got started, “[Bishop] Ravenscroft found four churches in North Carolina, and left twenty-seven. [Bishop] Moore found five clergymen in Virginia and left one hundred.”

          So is our United States left wholly without support from our Mother Church in England by her theology concerning our Revolution? The Homily describes lawful authority as “when mankind increased and spread itself more largely over the world, [God] by his holy word did constitute and ordain in cities and countries several and special governors and rulers, unto whom the residue of his people should be obedient.” And also, concerning David’s refusal to kill Saul, “let him live [saith good David] until God appoint and work his end, either by natural death, or in war by lawful enemies, not by traitorous subjects.” Fair enough. But the Founding Fathers believed themselves to be the lawful authority duly elected in the colonies according the rules in the charters of those colonies granted by monarchs of England previous to King George, to which agreements King George should have been adhering.

What does the Declaration of Independence say? “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.”

What are we to do, beloved, now that we have found that the Freedom of America has given rise to what is contrary to the “Right” “to life,” namely, Abortion; What are we to do, beloved, when the marriage given between man and woman, the most natural acts of the Law of Nature and of Nature’s God, given us by Nature’s God in Paradise, is given equal rights with a supposed marriage which is contrary to Nature? What did we do when the children of our future were put under the knife when unwanted? We promoted adoption. And then what happened? – Those who are so-called married come and request, no, demand, the right to adopt the children who are unwanted but not aborted. When the Right of such People is now the majority in many States, what are we to do?

Many times during the War for Independence, the words from the Litany rang from the lips of those Churchmen fighting on the side of the United States, men like William White in the white sanctuary of Christ Church, Philadelphia, or George Washington in his pew there, or Francis Lightfoot Lee in Virginia. What did they pray then? After proclaiming themselves “miserable sinners” many times, they cried, “O God, merciful Father, who despisest not the sighing of a contrite heart . . . graciously hear us, that those evils which the craft and subtilty of the devil or man worketh against us, may, by thy good providence, be brought to nought; that we thy servants being hurt by no persecutions, may evermore give thanks unto thee in thy holy Church.” And here you are, beloved, on this peaceful July 4th weekend, but engaged, nevertheless, in a bloodless culture war.

I would not leave you hopeless without some practical advice. 1) Prayer. As the Homily Against Willful Rebellion states, “whether the prince be good or evil, let us, according to the counsel of holy Scriptures, pray for the prince; for his continuance and increase in goodness, if he be good, and for his amendment, if he be evil.” If we are concerned, let us assault heaven’s ears with prayer and like a Church Militant take the kingdom of heaven violently with petition and shake the rafters not of this holy house only but of that smoke-filled house above with our vibrant hymn singing. So often, I know full well, our minds are so disturbed by the times that the prayers do not come to us and for this we have in times of peace prepared for war, by pre-composing prayers for such an hour of evil. Remember that the Prayer Book is not to be set in some convenient place to be observed but never used.

If possible, gather together to say a few prayers. The Prayer Book is not

primarily a book of private devotion, but of common prayer and a means by which the faithful come together for mutual support and protection. As any civilized nation gathers together for mutuality, so does the Church. And like any civilized nation, it is helpful, nay, as Shakespeare wrote “It is most meet we arm us ‘gainst the foe; For peace itself should not so dull a kingdom, Though war nor no known quarrel were in question, But that defences, musters, preparations, Should be maintain’d, assembled and collected, As were a war in expectation.” We arm ourselves by prayer for we are spiritual warriors and His Kingdom is not of this world and, yet, though He is enthroned elsewhere, we are promised that when two or three are gathered together commonly, so He is in the midst of us and His Kingdom becomes present on earth. Oh, that we would learn that as the fish can not breathe without water and the natural man without air, so the spiritual man cannot breathe without prayer, let alone fight with all his might against the Lord of the Air and our ghostly enemy!

2) It is noticeable that the Homily Against Willful Rebellion says that one of the ways rebellious war violates the Ten Commandments is by taking people away from “assembling in [God’s] temple and church upon his day as becometh the Lord’s servants.” If we really love assembling together peacefully for a beautiful liturgy without persecution, then we must exercise that God-given and constitutional right. A weapon not used against the enemy will be taken from us and used against us by the enemy. I know there are many good reasons, such as work, why we do not make it to this temple every Sabbath. But, one wonders, if we had all been attending as we ought, if 100% were attending on Sunday forty years ago, would we have ever started to have to work? Our idleness was used against us. 3) We should put away filthiness both of speech and idolatry on the internet. George Washington exhorted his army “that we can have little hopes of the blessing of Heaven on our Arms if we insult it with our impiety and folly.” And we as a Church Militant should do nothing less than assemble at the mandatory formations for military inspection on the Sabbath, having kept our mouths and eyes clean.

These are the small things that a righteous nation did to continue to be a righteous nation and to win their liberties of old from persecution and tyranny. We should do nothing less today. (I shall finish with a part of what was written and required to be prayed following the Homily Against Willful Rebellion.)

Let us pray.

O Most mighty God, the Lord of hosts, the Governor of all creatures, the only Giver of all victories, who alone art able to strengthen the weak against the mighty, and to vanquish infinite multitudes of thine enemies with the countenance of a few of thy servants calling upon thy Name, and trusting in thee . . .

Withstand the cruelty of those which be common enemies as well to the truth of thy eternal word, as to their own . . . country . . .

Lighten, we beseech thee, their ignorant hearts to embrace the truth of thy word: or else so abate their cruelty, O most mighty Lord, that this our Christian region, with others that confess thy holy Gospel, may obtain by thine aid and strength surety from all enemies without shedding of Christian blood; whereby all they which be oppressed with their tyranny may be relieved, and they which be in fear of their cruelty may be comforted; and finally that all Christian realms . . . may by thy defence and protection continue in the truth of the Gospel, and enjoy perfect peace, quietness, and security; and that we for these thy mercies, jointly all together with one consonant heart and voice, may thankfully render to thee all laud and praise; that we, knit in one godly concord and unity amongst ourselves, may continually magnify thy glorious Name; who, with thy son our Saviour Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, art one eternal, almighty, and most merciful God. To whom be all laud and praise world without end. Amen.


Trinity 3, 2021 – On Institution of Rectors

In today’s Epistle and Gospel, we are told of the role of the minister and people, to stand in humility, to look out for the evil one, and to seek the lost sheep of the house of Israel. I would like investigate this, by also reviewing the Office of Institution, found in the Book of Common Prayer on page 570. To be more accurate, that Office, along with the Consecration of a Church Building is found in the Ordinal, or the portion of the Prayer Book devoted to Ordinations. I will be looking more precisely at the Office as it stands in our American Prayer Book during Sunday school today. This is because its history is wrapped up in the history of colonial churches, which is what Adult Sunday School is studying right now. Let us pray.

Grant, we pray thee, that this thy servant may so minister thy Word and Sacraments, that having faithfully fulfilled his course, he may at last receive the crown of righteousness from the Lord, the righteous Judge, who liveth and reigneth, one God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Since it has likely been a while since this parish has had an Institution of a Rector, I thought it only fitting, and consistent, Providentially, with our lessons today to look these things over, so that we may all be more prepared next Sunday to participate in heart and mind on such a solemn occasion. The prayer I just read is from the Irish Book of Common Prayer from 1926 and its service similar to what will occur next week. There is also a service from the Canadian Prayer book of 1912, which I will be referencing.

The service of an Institution of a Rector has similar language to that of an ordination. And this is because, in the early church, there was almost no occasion when a minister, deacon, priest or bishop, would be transferred from one church to another. This is quite a change to the time we live in now. When I was growing up, not all that long ago, the average stay of a pastor was 5 years. It then decreased to three years, and might be as low as 18 months, depending on the study you look at. This speaks, really, to the instability of our times, how mobile we are as a society, how quickly things appear to be changing.

We read in the Ecclesiastical Canons of the Apostolic Constitutions from around 375 A.D. the following:

“A bishop ought not to leave his own parish and leap to another, although the multitude should compel him, unless there be some good reason forcing him to do this, as that he can contribute much greater profit to the people of the new parish by the word of piety; but this is not to be settled by himself, but by the judgment of the bishops, and very great supplication.”

The reason that the Office of Institution has similar language to an ordination and is in the Ordinal is because, as I have said, transferring from one church to another was unusual. The Apostles, such as St. Peter and St. Paul, did preach and teach from church to church, but the office-bearers, the elders, of the Church – that is the early priests – did not. They were, by all accounts, both Catholic and Protestant accounts, local office-holders, elders of the local church, as Jewish elders had been for local synagogues, and ordained for that church. The canonical rule is still that no priest may be ordained without cure of souls, a local congregation in which he functions and officiates, ministers and administers sacraments. As Christian communities arose around the Mediterranean, there began to be a need for transferring such already ordained office-holders, such as elders, or as we call them, priests. This is because most every minister in the earliest days was bi-vocational and bi-vocational merchants, and government officials, and such, would naturally move about the Empire and would need to transferred. This was done by letters of commendation, or, as we call them now, Letters Dimissory or Dismissory.  

Again we read from the Ecclesiastical Canons of the Apostolic Constitutions,

“If any presbyter or deacon, or any one of the catalogue of the clergy, leaves his own parish and goes to another, and, entirely removing himself, continues in that other parish without the consent of his own bishop, him we command no longer to go on in his ministry, especially in case his bishop calls upon him to return, and he does not obey, but continues in his disorder. However, let him communicate there as a layman.”

Furthermore, the Laity, the People, have, in a strong sense, a role to play in the selection, election and ordination of an individual. In the Orthodox Church, they cry out “Worthy” when the priest is ordained. In our own tradition, the Rector is duly elected and called by the Vestry. We saw another one just a moment ago from the reading of the SiQuis to the congregations, which is required by our canons. We can learn something from the low church Anglican, W. H. Griffith-Thomas, who is in agreement, in some sense with the Orthodox Church. He says, “the government of the Church is not vested solely in either the ministry or in the laity, but is vested in both minister and people, and this was the view emphasized at the Reformation . . .” He says, “The laity have a Scriptural right to a voice in the counsels of the Church and in the selection of their pastors. They have no share in the transmission of Ordination of the ministerial commission, but they should have a voice in the settlement of the place where the commission is to be exercised.”[1] He then points out that in Acts 6, the decision of who the deacons were was in the hands of the laity, and then the Apostles ordained them. Similarly, the Orthodox Study Bible lists out four orders in the Church, starting with the Laity. It says, “The laity (Gr. laos) are the people of God, the “priesthood” (1 Peter 2:4-10). Technically, the term “laity” includes the clergy, though in our day the word usually refers to those in the Church who are not ordained. It is from among the laity that the other three orders emerge.” Concerning the Priesthood, the same source tells us that “The presbyters, or elders, are visible throughout the New Testament. Their ministry from the start was to “rule,” “labor in the word,” and teach true “doctrine” (1Ti 5:17) in the local congregation. . . . In no way is the ordained Christian priesthood seen as a throwback to or a reenacting of the Old Testament priesthood. Rather, joined to Christ who is our High Priest . . . the Orthodox priest is likewise a minister of a new covenant that supersedes the old.”[2] Griffith-Thomas essentially agrees, saying, “. . . the word ‘priest’ is therefore used in the Prayer Book as the equivalent of the latter idea of ‘presbyter.’ Wherever it is found it is the exact representation of the ‘presbyter’ or ‘elder’.”[3]

          Hear what the beginning of the Institution of a Minister says in the Book of Common Prayer in Ireland and, especially, the role of the laity, “Dearly beloved in the Lord; in the name of God, and in the presence of this Congregation, we purpose now to give institution into the cure of souls in the parish, [such and such], to our well-beloved in Christ, [so and so] Clerk in Holy Orders. And forasmuch as the charge of immortal souls, which our blessed Lord and Saviour has purchased with his own most precious blood, is so solemn and weighty a thing, we beseech you to join together with us in hearty prayer to Almighty God, that he would vouchsafe to give to this his servant grace to fulfil among the people committed to his charge the vows that were made by him, when he was ordained by the laying on of hands to the ministry of Christ’s Church.” The Canadian Prayer Book uses almost exactly the same words, but also says these words of exhortation to the congregation: “It is the duty of the people to afford to their Minister at all times all needful help and encouragement in his work, and to give of their substance to his support; so that, being free from worldly anxieties, he may devote himself wholly to the preaching of God’s Word and the ministration of the Sacraments. Therefore, I charge and exhort you, Brethren and Churchwardens of this Parish” says the Bishop, “to pray continually for this your Minister who is set over you in the Lord, and to help him forward in all the duties of his holy calling. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” I shall now end with a prayer from the Irish Service of Institution, Let us pray.

Bless, O Lord, we pray thee, thy servant, to whom care of the souls of thy people in this Parish is [soon] to be [fully] committed. Pour out thy Holy Spirit upon him, and fit him to perform, with all faithfulness and diligence, the sacred duties with which he has been entrusted. Give to him the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound judgement. Make his ministry to be the means of awakening the careless, of strengthening the faithful, of comforting the afflicted, and of edifying thy Church. Guard him against the snares of temptation, that he may be kept pure in heart, and stedfast in the right way; and grant that at the last he may receive the crown of life, which thou hast promised to thy faithful ones; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.       

[1] W.H. Griffith-Thomas, The Catholic Faith, 143.

[2] P. 1635.

[3] The Catholic Faith, 142.

Trinity 2, 2021 – “Compel them to Come In” – St. Vladimir of Kiev

I want to tell you a story and that story I shall call “How to Evangelize like a Viking.” One thing our Gospel lesson today does not do is give a sense that usually it takes several presentations of the message of Christ before someone finally gets it. That is not the point of today’s Gospel. The point is the urgency and the fact that once our lives are over (and when that shall be we shall never know) the opportunity to hear the message and come into the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is over. But that does not mean that God is not merciful. Instead, He often allows us several chances and blesses many people with the opportunity of sharing that message with us. Let us think of opportunities in Evangelism instead of the challenges and obstacles. I remember doing an exercise in “Christian Formation”, a program out of the Diocese of Fort Worth, which asked, “Who do you remember influencing you to become a Christian?” Well? Who do you remember? Was it just one person or many? It is rather likely that it was several.

          Concerning one person whose witness and example resulted, eventually, in all of Russia becoming Christian (I am speaking of St. Vladimir, Prince of Kiev) the influences on his becoming a Christian were various. Many think of St. Vladimir as a man who became a Christian, because he wanted to unite his kingdom, or because he wanted to marry a bride who was a princess of Constantinople. Yet the thorough way in which he went about converting and the thorough way in which he compelled his subjects to come in and the fact that he defiled the idols he had previously worshipped, all point to something not done out of hatred or halfway, but like the King Hezekiah, “And he did right in the eyes of the Lord, according to everything his father David did. He removed the high places and broke in pieces the sacred pillars. He cut down the sacred wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent Moses had made, because up to those days, the sons of Israel had burned incense to it.” I remember very young reading a child’s version of the Chronicle of Kiev. I copied out word after word to present to the Russian Orthodox priest in town. I was so impressed that these Russians not only cut down their sacred idols, tall poles like totem poles in Alaska, but whipped those images they once had thought the embodiment of sacred entities. They also in one place dragged the idols over dung. What influenced such a man as this?

          Vladimir was of a noble class of Vikings, whose people settled among the natives inhabiting the river cities of Russia. They came in longboats, first to trade, then to protect these farmers and furriers and tradesman from the roving bands of barbarians along the Steppes of Russia. Then they were asked to rule and govern the natives. The mercenaries became managers. Vladimir’s grandmother had become a Christian, perhaps because of evangelism done further south or to the east, due no doubt to the efforts of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, two brothers whose exploits in evangelism along the Black Sea and east to Germany won them the title among the Eastern Christians of “Equal to the Apostles” – a title Vladimir would eventually attain himself. Vladimir’s father was not a Christian and even after a raid brought Vladimir’s older brother home a wife, only problem was that she was a nun. (This wife, this dedicated virgin, in his heathen days, Vladimir eventually accumulated from his brother.) Vladimir’s grandmother, Olga, was not always a Christian and when she was originally widowed she protected her power ruthlessly. She murdered five thousand to revenge those who had killed her husband. In one city she had laid siege to for a year, she feigned mercy and the only tribute she required to leave them be was every bird in every house. They were collected and brought to her and when the citizens were rejoicing that night, she had her men wrap sulfur in cloth bags to the legs of the birds and then, lighting the bags on fire, the birds returned to their homes, catching the whole city in a tremendous blaze. But she became a Christian and asked the Church in Germany to send missionaries to her, but her son thwarted her plans and she had to bide her time and eventually die before she would see her city, Kiev, become Christian. She took a chaplain with her everywhere, built a church in town, and dedicated her life to prayer and converting others.

          Eventually, Vladimir became a prince of his own minor city, Novgorod, and his father died, murdered returning from a raid, his skull made into a drinking cup by the barbarian chieftain who lifted his head. Vladimir’s brother decided it was time to exterminate his competing brothers and Vladimir disappeared. He is thought to have disappeared with Olaf Tryggvason, or Olaf I of Norway. Olaf himself had an interesting history. Hakon the Good, the youngest son of Harald Fairhair, tried to introduce Christianity to Norway and failed. Olaf’s father Tryggvi Olaffson was murdered and Olaf and his mother were captured by Estonian pirates. His uncle, Sigurd, was working for Vladimir and he ransomed them both. Later Olaf saw one of his captors in the marketplace in Novgorod and killed him outright. This got the Estonians and natives in an uproar, but Vladimir’s wife, Olava, thought something of Olaf, paid off the victim’s family and Vladimir and he became fast friends.

          Olaf had a fascinating conversion. He was already acquainted with Christianity, but, after his Novgorod days, was baptized by a hermit living on the Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall because Olaf was impressed by his powers of prophetic perception. There was a good chance then that this holy man was a hermit of the Celtic church. Olaf continued a life of raiding and attacked England in hopes of extracting some tribute. At the Battle of Maldon Bridge, he was invited onto the mainland for a fair fight with a Christian Earl, who could have fought Olaf off with just a few men by blocking a narrow slit of land. This fair play brought defeat, and the Anglo-Saxon warriors refused to retreat and chose to die with their Earl. King Aelthelred the Unready parlayed and paid tribute to Olaf and then Olaf, for some reason (was it the fair play?) received Holy Confirmation by the Bishop of Winchester, the English King standing up as his sponsor. This seems to have been the turning point. He went to Dublin and then took missionaries to Norway and started preaching in churches there. He was elected as King of Norway in 995 A.D. He visited Iceland and Greenland and used his post-election tour called an “Ericsgata” as an opportunity to spread Christianity. For his pains, like his father, he was murdered.

          So Vladimir returned after two years and with his own retinue of warriors and after a while ousted his brother, taking his brother’s nun wife as his own. He then continued to dialogue with Constantinople who needed mercenaries from him in order to put down an insurrection. He demanded that the Emperor’s sister be given to him in marriage if he helped. Vladimir’s conversion was definitely part of a trend. Prince Mieszko of Poland had been baptized in 966, King Harold of Denmark, 974, Olaf, around 976, and Duke Geza of Hungary, 985. There had been martyrs during Prince Vladimir’s heathen reign. He had also entertained and supported missionaries headed off to convert his enemies during his rule as a pagan. In the fullness of time he was able to marry Byzantine royalty and he needed to become baptized in the process, but did it follow that his people had to be? That was the trend, certainly. He thought they needed to be and they were baptized en masse in the Dnieper. They were compelled to come in. In Novgorod, there was a riot, but Vladimir’s emissary prevailed, the god Perun was dragged over dung while the pagans wailed and, no doubt, expected lightning to fall from the sky, and the folks at Novgorod were baptized in the Volkhov, men upstream from the bridge, women downstream, decently and in good order. Everyone was given a little cross once immersed so that they knew who had been and who had not been washed by the laver of regeneration.

          In a moment of inspiration, Vladimir is said to have extended his arms over the people of Kiev and exclaimed, like King Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, “O God, who hast created heaven, earth, sea and all that is in them! Look down upon these thy new men, and cause them to know Thee who art the true God, even as other Christian nations do. Continue in them a right and inalterable faith, and help me, O Lord, against the foe who confronts me, so that hoping in Thee and in thy might, I may overcome his snares.”

          So what do we learn from this? Do we compel people to come in this way anymore? No more than we expect that the King approve every marriage between persons of noble birth or that above eighteen one is still bound to obey one’s parents. It was a different time and kings were expected to be kings and subjects to be subjects. We learn rather that there are a lot of ways that people impact our lives for Christ and that it very often takes many interactions with the message of the Gospel to bring people to it. It can be a stranger or an intimate friend who shares the message and just because it doesn’t have an immediate impact does not mean that it doesn’t have an impact. A hermit on an island off the coast of Cornwall may have only baptized one person in his whole ministry, but the missionaries Olaf Tryggvason took back to Norway baptized thousands. The chaplain of Vladimir’s grandmother at St. Sophia’s in Kiev may never have baptized anyone and only ever buried one Christian, Olga herself. But St. Sophia’s in Kiev was to be thronged with baptized believers.

There are those in the streets and the lanes of the city, “the poor, the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.” There are those in the highways and the hedges. We are moved today to compel them to come in so that God’s house may be full, not for our sakes but for His. As 2 Corinthians 9 says, “He that soweth little shall reap little; and he that soweth plenteously shall reap plenteously. Let every man do according as he is disposed in his heart, not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” Let us give our efforts at evangelism cheerfully, not grudgingly, nor of necessity, but each as he is disposed in his heart.             


Trinity 1, 2021

William Porcher Dubose was a Confederate Officer, and alumnus of The Citadel; he served as the renowned Theology professor at the University of the South after the war. He was a professor for Deacon Milnor Jones, about whom I wrote in this month’s Newsletter. And he said this on his deathbed, “I have looked death in the face, and felt it in my body, and I am ready to face it. If God should take me tonight, I would be glad. The Eternal Father, the risen Christ, the Blessed Holy Ghost have been my companion.”[1] You see when we’ve lived our lives according the threefold way that I talked about last week, we have lived our lives in the Holy Trinity, and the same Holy Trinity Who has been our companion along the pilgrim’s way is the same Holy Trinity Whom we meet at the end of the road. So often, those who have felt the heat of battle, that purgative way, know so well the illuminative and the unitive way. They die without fear because they have already died many times, psychologically, on the battlefield.

               We trace this idea through our Epistle Lesson today, in which one lives within the Holy Trinity. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might life through him.” This is living in the Holy Trinity. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” This is living in the Holy Trinity. “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” This also is living in the Holy Trinity. “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world.” This speaks of ending our life in Faith and Hope, without Suffering and without Reproach, in the Holy Trinity.

               Dubose whether he was fighting in the thick of battle in the Civil War, or wrestling with God, attempting to speak of the mysteries of the Holy Trinity in the Lecture hall as a professor, or offering the Holy Eucharist as a priest, or watching a son die as child, knew that the Holy Trinity was his companion. He wrote to a friend in his 80th year of his Faith.

               . . . I feel that I can say modestly that I have conquered, it has only had the beneficent effect, as most certainly the gracious purpose, of throwing me back upon a re-examination and a deeper questioning and testing of my religion. I have gone deeper into it, and reached higher than ever before, and I humbly believe I can say now “I not only believe but know.” At any rate, I have discovered that the more persistently and perseveringly one believes to the bitterest end, the more certainly one knows, and is grateful for having been spared none of the tests… I have nothing to show, but I am firmer on the rock.”[2] He could have easily said, with the Celtic mystics of old, the following.

The Three Who are over me,

The Three Who are below me,

The Three Who are above me here,

The Three Who are above me yonder;

The Three Who are in the earth,

The Three Who are in the air,

The Three Who are in the heaven,

The Three Who are in the great pouring sea.[3]

Or could have said, in the struggle of life,

               The compassing of God and His right hand

               Be upon my form and upon my frame;

The compassing of the High King and the grace of the Trinity

               Be upon me abiding ever eternally.

May the compassing of the Three shield me in my means,

               The compassing of the Three shield me this day,

               The compassing of the Three shield me this night

               From hate, from harm, from act, from ill.

               From hate, from harm, from act, from ill.[1]

Our Gospel lesson today tells of the Great Divide, or Great Divorce, between the Blessed and the Damned. Yet it is also telling us about living our lives in the Holy Trinity, because by living in relationship, we live in the Holy Trinity. Would it have been enough for the rich man to feed the hungry in order to make it into heaven? Heaven forbid! For if it were so, the Gospel would be overthrown. The Rich Man passed by the Leper, Lazarus (for Lazarus means Leper) many times, but was not in relationship with him. The fact that he was not in relationship with the Leper was an outward, spiritual manifestation that the Rich Man was not in the Holy Trinity. Again, listen to St. John: “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” The Spirit of God compels us to act by being in relationship, as the Persons of the Holy Trinity are in relationship with one another – perfect relationship. There are many, beloved, who give of their disposable income to feed the hungry, who will, like the Rich Man, be in torments in the afterlife. It is not the act of giving that saves. Giving, true giving, by the Spirit of God, is done by, with and through, the Holy Trinity – it is the Spirit of Personal Relationship. That personal relationship does not preclude giving, but just including giving in one’s budget does not prove that one has the Spirit of Christ. It does not justify us on the day of judgment. “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” What does this mean? Suffering. Compassion. Suffering with others. He came down to earth to suffer with and for us. That’s compassion. Did the Rich Man, watching Lazarus in heaven, get told by Father Abraham, “you should have given Lazarus money?” Elsewhere this is indicated. For it says elsewhere, in Matthew 25, “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? . . . Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Yes. Giving is assumed. But to make the point further, the answer to the Rich Man in today’s lesson is not about giving; it’s about suffering. Did the Rich Man suffer? No. Did Lazarus suffer? Yes. “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” The usual way to explain this is to say, the Rich Man didn’t give, therefore now he is tormented. No! The Rich Man did not suffer (the way by the example of Christ we are to suffer in this world) therefore he is tormented. He did not suffer with Lazarus, by being in relationship with a suffering soul, therefore, now he is suffering in the afterlife. Let’s think this thru carefully: If it were about giving, and if you had naught to give, you would be damned and only Rich Men could get into heaven. The point is, it is not about money. For whether one has little or one has much, the one with little can still suffer in relationship with a suffering soul, and the one with much can suffer with and give to the suffering soul. Again, if it is about giving, then only people who have something to give can get into heaven. Sometimes in a sermon on this topic, the point is made, well if you don’t have money you have time to give, volunteer somewhere! Volunteering is great. But what if one doesn’t have time to volunteer? Then one is damned for not having disposable time. And so on…

But then you say, must I go out and suffer in order to be saved? Must I sit on the curbside, scratching flees? Shall I start a bed bug colony in my home in order to be like Lazarus? This is not the only kind of suffering. Listen to the Collect again, “O God, the strength of all those who put their trust in thee; Mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping thy commandments we may please thee, both in will and deed . . .” This indicates to us that we can’t do any good thing, because of the weakness of our mortal nature. If it is by strength of character only that we offer ourselves to the poor of this world, then are we still damned. Why? Because we have given out of our abundance, rather than out of our lack. Remember the widow’s mite. Who gave more? The rich man or her? The widow, for she gave out of her lack. It is in our weakness of character, our lack, that true giving occurs; this is suffering in soul. The good news is that whether one is rich or one is poor, one may be saved. But in order to do this, we must give food, money, time, compassionate concern, not haughtily, but while in a state of suffering in soul. In the right spirit. We must give while acknowledging through painstaking effort at character examination our defects, and when we have found ourselves to be without righteousness or merit, to be unprofitable, wretched sinners. When we are in relationship with others, while being honest with ourselves, then is our giving to others justified. You see, it is giving honestly, from one wretched, suffering soul, to another. That is the Spirit in which we are to be in giving relationship.

To conclude this, let me commit you to God on your pilgrim’s way from another one of these Celtic prayers, which I’ve changed up a bit from last week. Let us pray.              

The [compassion] of God be on thee,

The [compassion] of the God of life.

The [compassion] of Christ be on thee,

The [compassion] of the Christ of love. 

The [compassion] of Spirit be on thee,

The [compassion] of the Spirit of Grace.

The [compassion] of the Three be on thee,

The compassing of the Three preserve thee,

The [compassion] of the Three preserve thee. Amen.[1]


[1] Michael D. Blackwell, Remember Now Thy Creator in the Days of Thy Youth: The Religious Heritage of The Citadel, 178.

[2] Ibid, 183.

[3] The Celtic Vision: Prayers and Blessings from the Outer Hebrides, 167.

Trinity Sunday, 2021

We have come to Trinity Sunday, the third, if I might say, of our Springtime festivals. The first is Easter, then Pentecost, then our Feast of the Holy Trinity celebrated today. I would like to relate these three feasts to three stages, the threefold way of spirituality: The Purgative, the Illuminative, and the Unitive ways. The first is the way of Purification, the second of Illumination, the third of Union. We can easily relate these to the three feasts of Easter, Pentecost, and Holy Trinity. We shall end with a reflection on what the Trinity means for soldiers. Let us pray.

God be in my head, and in my understanding; God be in my eyes, and in my looking; God be in my mouth, and in my speaking; God be in my heart, and in my thinking; God be at my end, and at my departing. Amen.[1]   

In Easter, we celebrate the Death (and Resurrection) of the sacred humanity and full divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Pentecost, or Whitsunday, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, and the whole Church. On Holy Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the full revelation and enjoy full life in the Holy Trinity, now that the Church has received the full vision of who God is: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, One God. Amen.

          In Christ’s Death and Resurrection, we are purged from that old enemy death and sin, and raised to newness of life. The whole of our purgation, our purification, in the spiritual life is a way of purging out the old leaven, the leaven of malice and wickedness; mortifying the old man, in light of the new man revealed to us in the Holy Resurrection. In the Coming of the Holy Spirit, we are provided that vital means of sanctification which illuminates through Holy Wisdom our path, showing us holiness and a way forward in victory, not being overcome of evil but overcoming evil with good. In the Holy Trinity, we begin to live anew in that mutual fulfillment which is the Life of the Holy Trinity – it is Union with Him. This Thursday, on Corpus Christi, when we celebrate Jesus coming to us as the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation, in the fullness of His Body and Blood, we celebrate the most tangible experience of Union we have on earth. “He in us, and We in Him.” “By Whom, and with Whom, in the Unity of the Holy Ghost” we offer to him simple gifts of bread and wine and He returns to us that means of union with Himself, through physical chewing and physical sipping.

          By way of explication, I want to use as an illustration a hymn not found in our hymnal, but one you might find in a more Baptist-type Hymnal. It reveals to us that Christians, of whatever branch of Christ’s Church, know this threefold way by experience, it becoming very easily expressed in their poetry. The hymns is “Blessed Assurance” and the refrain is “This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long.”

          The first verse speaks of the Purgative Way or the Way of Purification. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.” This speaks to us of how we are purged of sin by the Blood of Christ, and by Him redeemed, so as the purchase of God we have an assurance that the pilgrimage of trials and tribulations walked and this life ended, we will come at last to His heavenly joys.

          The second verse speaks of the Illuminative Way or the Way of Illumination. “Perfect submission, perfect delight, Visions of rapture now burst on my sight; Angels descending, bring from above Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.” This speaks of the joy of the Holy Spirit through submission to God the Father, through the mercies of Jesus Christ. To be raptured, is to be seized by holy things from above. To have angels ascending and descending upon us, is to be in constant communication and prayer with the Father, through Jesus Christ, and by the Power of the Holy Ghost. Here we know by the voice of God, by the still small of the Holy Ghost, we know that we are forgiven and that we are loved.

          The third verse speaks especially to today, Holy Trinity Sunday. Here we have the words, “Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest; Watching and waiting, looking above, Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.” This speaks of Union with Christ which will only be totally the case when we are at rest, that is, when we die and are with Him in Paradise. This is the Unitive Way, in which we are “filled with His goodness” and are “lost in His love.” This is the moment of contemplation and of prayer when we are “Lost in Wonder, Love and Praise” to quote another hymn.

          But I want to add a further point to all of this. Bishop Kirk explains that the mystics “held that whilst the three paths were, in strict logic, successive, they were to a great extent in Christian experience concurrent. Even the soul still struggling with passion in the purgative way received constant rays of illumination and occasional moments of mystic union with God – foretastes of the privileges, as well as means of strength and encouragement for the conflict of the present.”[2] Isn’t this your experience? Isn’t this your story as you tread on along the pilgrim’s path? In all three of these ways, the Holy Trinity is active and present, at our beginning and at our end. On this threefold way, we trust the Holy Trinity to be our guard and succor.

Finally, Hear these prayers of protection from the Celtic lands of the Outer Hebrides and let them remind you of Who it is that guards and guides your way, with His guardian angels to keep you. To conclude this, let me commit you to God on your pilgrim’s way from another one of these Celtic prayers. Let us pray.

          The compassing of God be on thee,

          The compassing of the God of life.

          The compassing of Christ be on thee,

          The compassing of the Christ of love.

          The compassing of Spirit be on thee,

          The compassing of the Spirit of Grace.

          The compassing of the Three be on thee,

          The compassing of the Three preserve thee,

The compassing of the Three preserve thee. Amen.[3]

[1] From the Sarum Primer. St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, 30.

[2] Kenneth Kirk, Some Principles of Moral Theology, 51

[3] The Celtic Vision: Prayers and Blessings form the Outer Hebrides, 161.

Pentecost, 2021

For so the ways of them which lived on the earth were reformed, and men were taught the things that are pleasing unto thee, and were saved through wisdom.” Wisdom 9:18

We asked ourselves a couple of weeks ago about the waiting process before the coming of the Holy Spirit. What were the Apostles doing while waiting? They were praying. “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14). What was that prayer? We do not know, but a very likely model for such a prayer can be found in the apocryphal work, the Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 9. It is a prayer attributed to Solomon as he is asking for help to rule God’s people well. This matches what Christ said the Apostles would do. What were they to do? The Apostles were to judge the Twelve tribes. Today, we pray to have a right judgment in all things. So does this prayer. Let’s see.

Chapter 9 goes like this, “O God of our fathers, and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things with thy word. And ordained man through thy wisdom, that he should have dominion over the creatures which thou hast made. And order the world according to equity and righteousness, and execute judgment with an upright heart” This prayer begins by taking us back to Genesis, where Adam was given the breath of life, and part and parcel with that, very likely, the Holy Spirit, and Adam was commissioned to use that breath to name the animals and to take care of Paradise. John Paul II said of this text that it is “easy to intuit that this ‘wisdom’ is not mere intelligence or practical ability, but rather a participation in the very mind of God who ‘with his wisdom [has] established man.’… Thus it is the ability to penetrate the deep meaning of being, of life, … going beyond the surface of things … to discover their ultimate meaning, willed by the Lord.”[1] By this kind of wisdom, Adam was able to see the intelligence of God when he created each living being and to give them apt names according their function and purposefulness within the created order, the cosmos.

Wisdom as described in this prayer is not the Holy Spirit, exactly.  It’s Christ. The Orthodox Study Bible explains: “Word and wisdom are synonymous; both are a reference to Christ.” We can understand this to be so from a short quote by St. Athanasius, “In former times, the Wisdom of God stamped his seal on all created things – and the presence of his sign is the reason why we call them ‘created’ – to reveal himself and make his Father known. But later, this same Wisdom, who is the Word, was made flesh, as John says, and having overcome death and saved the human race, he revealed himself in a clearer way and, through himself, revealed the Father.”[2] We can say, in short, Jesus is the New Adam.

The prayer continues, “Give me wisdom, that sitteth by thy throne: and reject me not from among thy children: For I thy servant and son of thine handmaid am a feeble person, and of a short time, and too young for the understanding of judgment and laws.” Let’s focus on the words, “of a short time”. Here we can recall that primitive man, misusing that intelligence and perceptive insight into the laws of nature, did not use it for good, but for ill. So we read in Genesis, “And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” God shortened the days of man, drawing out from him, after one hundred and twenty years, the breath that He gave. Solomon is lamenting the fact that he has only a short time to learn the laws and judgments of God. For those who love knowledge, for artists, for people who want to do anything better, the shortening of life is a tragedy.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Today, celebrating Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, we can see that the Holy Spirit has descended. At Easter we recall that Christ overcoming Death is like Noah and the Ark in which eight souls were saved by floating on the top of water that was killing everything else; that Christ is that place of refuge, like the Ark, and dying to death in baptism, we rise to newness of life in Him. The same water that destroyed the earth is now water that begets us unto eternal life. You see, in Genesis, first God removes the Spirit that rests on man in Genesis 6, and then destroys man. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, . . . And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth…” Again, God floods the earth, but only after He removes His Holy Spirit, collectively, from mankind. After Christ died and rose again, (and the Apostles had been made one with Him through the Holy Eucharist,) then and only then, God gave again his Holy Spirit collectively to his people – not just to a prophet here or there. Not just “at sundry times and in diverse manners” spoken “unto the fathers by the prophets” as Hebrews 1:1 says. Now everywhere. 

  1. Holy Spirit Removed, Gen. 6:3\                         /1. Jesus Dies and is Raised
  2. Earth Floods – Death, Gen. 6:7/                         \2. The Holy Spirit is given. 

This was prefigured also in the Book of Exodus. We recall that Easter is prefigured in the Old Testament, not only in story of Noah, but in another story concerning water, that of Pharoah and his chariots destroyed in the Red Sea. That is another story in which the same water that saved the people of God, destroyed the enemies of God. It is a prefigure of Baptism. And just after that, God feeds his people with Manna in the Wilderness in Exodus 16, and then in Exodus 17 He gives them drink. This is to prefigure the Eucharist.

  1. Death at the Red Sea, Ex. 14 \                /1. Jesus gives Himself in Food and Drink
  2. Food & Drink given, Ex. 16, 17 /             \2. Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

It is after this that Moses assembles the number of judges, according to the advice of Moses’ father-in-law Jethro. And then, and only then, do they receive the Law. Pentecost, beloved, is the day designated by the Rabbis as the day that the Torah, the Law, was given to Moses. This is recorded in Exodus 19, 20, and following. When it happened, first Moses ascended up onto Mount Sinai, was wrapped in a cloud, while being observed by the elders (likely 70 in number), then he came down again with the Law. This prefigured Christ being wrapped in a cloud and ascending up to heaven before the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, the very Apostles who had observed his Holy Ascension.

  1. Exodus: Judges are chosen for Israel, Moses Ascends, the Law Descends with Moses.
  2. Jesus Ascends on High, the 12 “Judges” are completed, the Holy Spirit descends on the “Judges”.

While they are waiting for the day of Pentecost, Peter leads the Apostles in choosing a replacement judge for Judas, who killed himself. Then, when the judges are 12 in number, for the Twelve tribes, then the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Thereupon the 12 Apostles, and the 70 disciples, constituted a substitute for the Sanhedrin which numbered 71 wise elders, a Sanhedrin which judged Israel from the inner courts of the Temple. In contrast, the 12 Apostles, headquartered in the Upper Room, constituting this new Sanhedrin, were to rebuild the Temple and Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. Thus they might well have prayed, from the Wisdom of Solomon, while awaiting the Holy Spirit, “Thou hast commanded me to build a temple upon thy holy mount, and an altar in the city wherein thou dwellest, a resemblance of the holy tabernacle, which thou hast prepared from the beginning.” Starting at the Upper Room, and that holy altar table where the first Eucharist was celebrated, they were to fulfil the Lord’s Command recorded in Acts 1: 8: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: And ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

The Apostles in the Book of Acts did not hesitate to make judgments and to give commands from the Upper Room, as a substitute Sanhedrin. When the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles, Peter declared, “Can any forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? (10:47)” So new commandments, that circumcision, for example, was not necessary, were declared by the Apostles. So likewise could the Apostles pray, “And wisdom was with thee: which knoweth thy works, and was present when thou madest the world, and knew what was acceptable in thy sight, and right in thy commandments. O send her out of thy holy heavens, and from the throne of thy glory, that being present she may labour with me, that I may know what is pleasing unto thee. For she knoweth and understanding all things, and she shall lead me soberly in my doings, and preserve me in her power. So shall my works be acceptable, and then shall I judge thy people righteously, and be worthy to sit in my father’s seat.

Wisdom 9 – this is a great prayer. Do you want to be a good father of your family? A good grandmother? A good employer? A good citizen? A good student? Meditate on this prayer. Pray this prayer!

Finally, the Holy Fathers, according to the revelation of Jesus Christ and by the Power of the Holy Spirit, were able to pronounce that God was always and ever shall be One God, but also three Persons in unity. This we see shining forth to us at the end of the prayer of Solomon in the Book of Wisdom. “And thy counsel who hath known, except thou give wisdom, and send thy Holy Spirit from above?” (This we shall celebrate next week on Trinity Sunday.) As the Orthodox Study Bible explains, “The presence of the Holy Trinity is unveiled here. Your counsel refers to God the Father, who gives His Son, wisdom, and sends His Holy Spirit to reveal the knowledge of salvation to mankind.” And we end this reflection in the last words of Wisdom chapter 9: “For so the ways of them which lived on the earth were reformed, and men were taught the things that are pleasing unto thee, and were saved through wisdom.” Let us pray.

O God, who at this time didst send down thy Holy Spirit from above upon thine apostles, and dost evermore send him to renew thine image in our souls: Mercifully grant that by the working of his grace we may be saved from sin and may glorify thee: through the merits and mediation of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit, on God, world without end. Amen.[3]

[1] General Audience, January 29, 2003. As quoted from the Ignatius Study Bible.

[2] Contra Ariano, 2, 81-82. As quoted from the Ignatius Study Bible.

[3] The Book of Worship, 128.

Sunday after the Ascension, 2021

“Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like this. A merchant looking out for fine pearls found one of very special value; so he went and sold everything he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:45

My oldest sister, with whom I trade conversation on investing and such, sent some books one Christmas to my wife and me. One was Payback Time: Making Big Money is the Best Revenge by Phil Town. Nowhere in this sermon do I intend to endorse his ideas but his big idea is this, stockpile stock. Identify a company that you know is valuable because it is something of interest to you, that you are passionate about, that you would be interested in owning and interested in keeping an eye on and because, well, because it’s valuable. Then when the price goes down, buy the stock. If the price goes down further, buy more stock. Either way you can’t lose. This isn’t the buy low sell high idea. This is the, “if one is good, two is better”, idea.

There was a fellow in the Bible who felt the same. His name was Lamech and he was the father of Noah. He married two wives, Adah and Zillah. See, “if one is good, two is better.” He then tempted God. He said to his wives, “I kill a man for wounding me, a young man for a blow. If sevenfold vengeance was to be exacted for Cain, for Lamech it would be seventy-sevenfold.” He could be called a tempter of God, but he was also the first one to realize the extent of God’s mercy, “seventy-sevenfold” or as Christ told St. Peter, seventy times seven is the number of times that we are to forgive a brother. He could be called the first “stockpiler” in the Bible – stockpiling wives and mercy.

Now, Phil Town’s concept is fairly simple. He says, you can’t lose. If the stock goes down, you buy more and get rich. If the stock goes up, your stock goes up and you get rich. The point is to know the value of the stock that you are going to buy. For example, if you know cars, then you know the value of a certain car – like Bishop Kleppinger, with whom I worked, he knew the value of a Cadillac. He’s always bought Cadillacs. So if you can buy two, it doesn’t matter if Cadillacs are selling below their value, because you know the value. It will rise to its value when you drive it. So you just got a steal on a Cadillac. Actually, it doesn’t rise to its value. It always has the value, if the value is there.

Phil Town says this, “The one and only secret to stockpiling is to make sure the value of the business is substantially greater than the price you are paying for it. I swear to you that’s all there is to it. If you get this right, you cannot help but get rich. Most investors make the mistake of thinking the price they paid has some necessary connection to the value of the thing they bought. I don’t know why stock market investors think that when it’s so manifestly and obviously not true in any other sort of market they buy in regularly.”

Let me try to apply this to fashion. A lot of teenagers who shop in malls think that the clothes that they buy that fall apart after being washed five times are of value because they are expensive. Whereas those of you who have been around a while know that this is silly. The value of the clothes is in its quality. If you find it at Goodwill, treat yourself. Get two. And this has application in religion. Folks figure that if it’s popular religion, it must be of value. Basically, price = value is only valuable if you are trying to impress people that you have money, hence buying poor quality clothes not for the quality but for the price tag. In fact, some teenagers for a while just kept the price tag on it so you could tell how much they spent. If I leave the tag on, it itches my neck. Maybe that’s just me.

Phil says this is how to identify value in a company. Again, you may agree or disagree in investing world; it makes no difference to the thesis of this sermon. He describes a perfect business according to six criteria. 1. Is as simple as a lemonade stand. 2. Is protected by some form of monopoly. 3. Has universal appeal. 4. Is habit-forming. 5. Makes the world a better place. 6. Is run by people who are owner-oriented, passionate, dedicated, and honest.

Now you may already know where I am going with this. But let’s begin with the sixth point. Can you find a business where the owner and executives are completely and utterly passionate, dedicated, and above all honest? Is it possible to be completely honest? No. Not unless you are God. So what business is run by God? You got it, the Church. Now count it back. Makes the world a better place? Yes, we tend to believe that the Church makes the world a better place. Next, is it habit-forming? I hope so, otherwise you wouldn’t come back. Does it have universal appeal? Certainly, it is for all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. Is it protected by some monopoly? Absolutely, there is only one way and Jesus and His Church are it. Is it as simple as a lemonade stand? Sort of, it starts out simple but as the habit forms you find that there is just more and more to learn and that is part of the habit-forming nature of God’s Truth.

Now, this might seem a bit trite. But I assure you it isn’t for a couple of reasons. You might say that the Church isn’t a company, but it is. Read your prayer book where it says the Church is, “the blessed company of all faithful people.” That word “company” is related to the word “with bread”, people who share bread together along their journey. People in a company journey and earn money, bread, together. We are about to do so in the Holy Eucharist.

I have said in past sermons on tithing (not here. I have never preached on giving here, I don’t think) that investing with the Church is really investing in each other and this is true, yet we also have to remember that the value of something is not the price of something. I think that that is definitely the case when it comes to investing in Our Faith and Our Church. Sometimes it takes just a widow’s mite to keep things going. Sometimes it takes a higher price paid – no, not necessarily an endowment fund – sometimes it requires martyrdom. “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” But the value of the Church is the same, no matter what the era, where the market is, how bad the economy is, how bad the persecution is.

If something is valuable, then it’s worth waiting for. I found myself contemplating this passage from Ascension’s Gospel lesson: “tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” Why? I found myself considering Elijah and Elisha. On the day that Elijah was to depart from this earth, the same phrase in the King James is used. Elijah’s last day before retirement was a busy day for Elijah. Much to do. “Tarry here, I pray thee” he said to Elisha “for the Lord hath sent me to Beth-el”. But Elisha, said “not on your life!” and followed. (“As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.”) “Tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me to Jericho” but Elisha followed. “Tarry I pray thee, here; for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan.” But did Elisha listen? No. If Elisha saw Elijah go up into heaven, Elisha was to get a double-portion and this was immediately apparent. “And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.” What was his first act? He went to that cursed city Jericho, and there cast salt, and the barren waters were healed (2 Kings 19-22). He then went back to Beth-el and worked wonders there, by the power of God. Yesterday, I stopped in at a drive thru and it took a while. When I got the burger, it just didn’t taste all that great. The money was gone. The time was gone. Now the burger was in the trash. Earlier, I had to wait at the Dollar Store. But I was a little less annoyed because I knew the value of the items I was purchasing. They were the same brand name products at a lower price. Thus I didn’t mind waiting. So what was the point of tarrying in Jerusalem until the Day of Pentecost? I’m still wondering. I do think, however, it had something to do with the value. It also had to do with the fullness of the Spirit that the Apostles were to receive on Pentecost. Let us pray.

God of the prophets, bless the prophets’ sons; Elijah’s mantle o’er Elisha cast: Each age its solemn task may claim but once; Make each one nobler, stronger than the last. . . .

Make them apostles, heralds of thy cross; Forth may they go to tell all realms thy grace:

Inspired of thee, may they count all but loss, And stand at last with joy before thy face. Amen. (Hymn 220)

Fourth Sunday after Easter, 2021

This last week, on April 30, a festival was celebrated in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia known as Walpurgisnacht or the Eve of St. Walpurga or Walburga. It is not related to the word “purge”, although bonfires are used. It is not a holy night among those who generally celebrate it, exactly, but is also known as Hexxenacht, associated with Witchcraft. It is the night before May Day, which is an ancient day of fertility celebrations, and has been revived among the communists and by labor celebrations in this last century.

               You will not find St. Walpurga or Walburga easily. She is not in the American Missal of the Anglican tradition (from what I could find), being as it is an adaption of the Roman Missal and the Roman Missal (I can say this as I am a quarter Italian) is a bit too taken with Italian saints and ignores Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and other Germanic ones. But you will find her in the Anglican Breviary (even there she has been thrown among the English saints in the back of the book) and I quote: “Walburga was the daughter of the West Saxon Thane Saint Richard, and sister to Willibald and Wunnibald, all of whom were venerated by the Saxons as great Saints of God. Walburga became a nun at Wimborne; and when her kinsman Saint Boniface was evangelizing the Germans, she was sent, along with Saint Lioba and other nuns, to help him. The Abbey of Heidenheim, which had been founded by her aforesaid brothers, now added a house for women; and Walburga held rule over both the monks and nuns thereof until her death, about the year 780. She is venerated under various names throughout France, Germany, and the Low Countries, where her feast is kept on May 1st.” Let us pray.

O GOD, who hast bestowed upon thy Church divers gifts and graces of Ministry: We give thee humble thanks for thy servant St. Walpurga whom we commemorated yesterday; and we beseech thee to help us follow in her steps, and fill our hearts with love of thee, and of others for thy sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

May Day is associated, beloved, with pagan rites, as we have already said – although for us it is the Feast of Ss. Philip and James, which being prayer book holy days takes precedence over St. Walpurga. We might well remember Led Zeppelin in their hit song, “Stairway to Heaven” talking about flagrant fornication in the “hedgerow” and saying, it’s no big deal, it’s just a sprinkling for the May Queen. It is a day, we might say, of female empowerment, of fertility certainly. It is even a day for gardening in the nude, combining both sexuality and horticulture together on that special day. And this is why, no doubt, the Church in contrast says, “May is Mary’s Month” in which, in many parishes, Mary’s statue is crowned and remains crowned throughout the month of May. Is this why the Church made May Mary’s month, to counteract the paganism that surrounds May? Certainly. It is also likely the reason why St. Walpurga was moved to the day, to counteract the paganism associated with May Day. It is likely the same reason why St. Brigit, an historical person whose shrines in Celtic lands overcame the cult worship of the Celtic goddess of the same name, was celebrated, fittingly, on Candlemas, February 2nd, a pagan worship day. In other words, the Church not only overcame February 2nd’s (Groundhog Day) pagan association with the aid of the feast of the Purification of Mary, but also, in Celtic lands, with St. Brigit, the “St. Mary of the Gael” and thus Candlemas is also known as “St. Bride’s Day”. And so the ditty goes from Celtic lands, very fitting for Candlemas…

               I am under the shielding

                              Of good Brigit each day;

               I am under the shielding

                              Of Good Brigit each night.

               I am under the keeping

                              Of the Nurse of Mary

               Each early and late,

                              Every dark, every light[1]

The modern sense is that men (and men only) being priests is lacking in empowerment for women. Yet power and influence is a bit more subtle than that. I heard a story once of a Russian Orthodox woman who poo-pooed all of that stuff about women not being able to be priests by saying that women were more important than men in the matter because they gave birth to the sons who became priests. You see, it’s all a bit about perspective. Bishop Grafton describes that Penda, pagan king of Mercia, “did all that he could to crush out Christianity (633 to 655 A.D.). He had, however, a son, Paeda, described by Bede as ‘an excellent young man,’ to whom his father gave the kingdom of the Middle Angles. He married Elfleda, a Christian princess. It is to be noted that there was a remarkable series of Christian princesses in a line of eight descents from mother to daughter, whose pagan husbands became Christian kings.”[2] Who then, we might ask, made England, Christian, or Europe for that matter? It was standard practice for a Christian princess to go to wed a pagan king accompanied by a chaplain, a monk, deacon, priest or bishop. When Bertha, daughter of the King of Paris, went to marry Ethelbert of Kent, a pagan, she took with her Augustine, later known St. Augustine of Canterbury, for he was the first bishop of Canterbury. When Bertha and Ethelbert had a daughter, she went to marry King Edwin of Northumbria, a pagan, and she took with her as chaplain St. Paulinus, and the same thing happened. Again, its all a bit more subtle. Only a priest or bishop may be able to say mass and perform other sacraments. This is true. But only a woman can have the influence for evangelism that a Christian princess had time and time again, not only in England, but throughout Western and Eastern Europe and Russia. In Russia, for example, the same sort of thing happened with St. Olga of Kiev, the grandmother of Vladimir. She failed to introduce Christianity in modern-day Ukraine because her sons weren’t interested, but her grandson was.   

               Consider Margaret of Scotland, whose mother was a Bavarian princess. Accompanied by a Benedictine monk, as chaplain, she wedded Malcolm of Scotland, already a Christian. Nevertheless, one author described her – “Although her religion bore the marks of her time, her piety was genuine and beautiful, showing a rare combination of womanly gentleness and independent strength. In her personal religion as described by her father-confessor, earnest study of the Bible, close attention to Church rules, constant prayerfulness and an abstinence which threatened her health were balanced by tender care for the poor, diligence in the education of her own children and a genial concern for her household servants. . . . For the guidance of her court, before Christmas and during Lent, she publicly washed the feet of six poor men as a daily exercise. Thereafter she gathered nine orphan children round her, taking the infants in her lap and feeding them with motherly attentions. Three hundred of the poor were brought into the State apartments to receive food and alms from royal hands, while twenty-four special pensioners were always at her side. Her ladies were occupied in sewing garments for the poor and tapestries for the church.”[3] To her it has been credited that she brought the Celtic Church of Scotland into conformity with the rest of the Universal Church at that time, by love and not by constraint, just as the Abbess, St. Hilda of Whitby, baptized by the St. Paulinus whom we already mentioned, had done four hundred years earlier when conflicts arose between modern Roman church practices and the Celtic Church of Britain.

               Neo-Paganism, or Witchcraft, however you choose to call it, celebrated on May Day as well as many others, is not a resurgence of natural religion; it distorts it. Natural religion is fulfilled when the Comforter has come, when the Holy Spirit has come, and has reproved the world of sin, of righteousness and judgment. Christianity is the most natural religion in the world. In it, man’s true nature becomes purged and resurged by the Holy Spirit. Man becomes more a man. Woman becomes more a woman. There is no need to purge it, and “burn it all down” when it comes to Christendom, or Western Civilization. Christendom and Western Civilization, with its emphasis on Holy Mary, the Mother of God, with its history of Christian princesses who married pagan kings, who then gave birth to Christian princesses who married more pagan kings, or else became great abbesses of great convents and helped with the missionary effort of the Church in pagan lands, is perfectly balanced between masculinity and femininity. Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft, even academia, would have you believe that the evangelism of Europe from Paganism was the result of male domination and patriarchy. I think the history of women’s roles in all of that (that I’ve recounted today) really calls into question the propaganda that witchcraft is needed, that we must become pagan again, in order to give women their place in religion, to empower women.

There is no reason for a woman to get in touch with her masculine side, because in Christ is all the masculinity she needs. A woman can be a warrior for Christ, “manfully” fighting “under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto her life’s end”. No need for a guy to get in touch with his feminine side, because in contemplating Mary, Jesus’ mother, and being more like her, he has gotten in touch with the best feminine side that there is. There is no need for a may queen; God gave us one when He did not abhor the Virgin of virgins’ womb, Mary’s womb, when he came down and took flesh, became male flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, having been formed of female flesh of the virgin Mary. Christianity is the religion that really respects and fulfils the integrity of both “genders” or sexes. There’s no need to blur or erase the lines, through empowerment, steroids or surgery. Let us pray.

O GOD Most High, the creator of all mankind, we bless thy holy Name for the virtue and grace which thou hast given unto holy women in all ages, and we pray that the example of their faith and purity, and sometimes their courage unto death, may inspire many souls in this generation to look unto thee, and to follow thy blessed Son Jesus Christ our Saviour; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

[1] The Celtic Vision: Prayers and Blessings from the Outer Hebrides, 198

[2] Grafton, The Lineage of the American Catholic Church, 93-94

[3] A.R. MacEwan, A History of the Church in Scotland, Vol I, 155-56.

St. Mark’s Day, Third Sunday after Easter, 2021

In the very excellent, 1975 film The Wind and the Lion, a story about true events, the capture of an American woman and her children by a desert chieftain in Morocco, that desert chieftain, Raisuli the Magnificent, at the end of the film, sends President Teddy Roosevelt a telegram. The telegram is a footnote on what this desert chieftain thinks about European imperialism and American interventionism – “You are like the Wind” says the Raisuli to Teddy Roosevelt “I like the Lion. You form the tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I like the Lion must remain in my place, but you like the wind, will never know yours.” Today’s Saint, St. Mark the Evangelist, or John Mark as we might call him, was a Jew and cousin of St. Barnabas. He went with Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey, then to Cyprus with Barnabas and then to Rome with Paul and then Peter. It is believed that his Gospel is based on what St. Peter had to say. St. Mark, as an Evangelist or Gospel-writer, is often depicted as a winged Lion. Today, we pray that we might hold fast to the doctrine that he taught. This is in opposition to “every wind of doctrine” that blows when heresy is speaking. Heresy is like the wind – it never knows its place. Doctrine, as St. Mark taught, must stay within the bounds of what Jesus taught and always knows its place. Let us pray.

O Almighty God, who hast enriched Thy Church with the precious Gospel written by Thine Evangelist Saint Mark, give us grace that we may firmly believe Thy glad tidings of salvation and daily walk as it becometh the Gospel of Christ; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord . . . Amen.[1]

The way in which St. Mark’s Gospel starts, tells us something about why he has the face of a Lion. He begins by really sinking his teeth in and getting down to business. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” He gets to it, telling us about the coming of John the Baptist. There is also a great deal of focus on Spiritual Warfare in Mark. St. Peter, who mentored Mark, called Satan a Lion, roaring after his prey, going to and fro upon the earth, similar to how the Evil One is described in the Book of Job. So here the Gospel Lion is opposed to the diabolical lion, who, like the wind, goes to and fro upon the earth, not knowing his place, seeking whom he may devour. Mark, the winged Lion, the angelic Lion, stands firm on the doctrines of Christ, growling into the wind. I am reminded here of what Spurgeon said about the Bible. “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”

               On the other hand, the wind, knowing not its own place, must constantly shift its ground. This is how heresy works. It shifts from one extreme of the issue to another. It never stands on the modest, moderate, and balanced ground, but comes gusting from one end of the spectrum or the other, blowing passionately, without let or self-control, like a fanatic. Or else it whispers softly and gently into the ear, tickling the ear, with savory delights, fanciful and fantastic, making one think, “that’s just so simple. That’s such a loving, simple, answer to the problem. I don’t need to be mean, or be in conflict with others; I just need to get along.” This small tickling in the ear produces pat answers to life’s problems such as, “I need simple Faith” or “The basic idea of Christianity is be good” or “Plain, no nonsense, straightforward, religion is good enough” or “Every religion if held sincerely can produce a good, kind, and loving person.” All of these come across as the slightest, littlest, sensation of wind against the ear drum – but just watch: If you push back against these ideas with sound doctrine, then comes the gust, then comes the passion, then comes the roar of the abominable lion. “You bigot!” “You fascist!” “You insensitive soul.” Not knowing its place, this abominable and heretical wind of doctrine, goes from false humility to over-dominating judgmentalism in an instant. Instead, the true lion, the true Christian, he is steady, knows his ground, knows his topic, knows who Christ is, and stands his ground, undaunted, immovable, ready to pounce. But that goes to show that if you wish to be a true lion, a true follower of Jesus, the Lion of Judah, and be like St. Mark, you must know your ground, know your topic, know your Christ.

So, let us ask? What doctrines are revealed in today’s lessons? I will point out that there are four articles of the Christian Creed (actually five) described in today’s lessons. 1) “He Descended into Hell.” 2) He ascended into Heaven.  “I believe in” 3) “The holy Catholic Church” 4) “The Communion of Saints.” First, the Descent into Hell is referred to in Ephesians 4 in these words: “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?” This is an opaque statement, so it seems, and we might wonder what it can do for us. But there is comfort there. The Heidelberg Catechism tells us what this doctrine communicates to us. “That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by his inexpressible anguish, pains and terrors, which he suffered in his soul upon the cross, and before, hath delivered me from the anguish, and torments of hell.”[2] Second, the Ascent into heaven is described right after in the words, “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” We can then see that these words “that he might fill all things” refers to Pentecost, and this event we acknowledge when we say, “I believe in the Holy Ghost” or as it is more specifically stated, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord, and Giver of Life.” This Holy Ghost is He who was sent, after the Ascension, on the day of Pentecost. So, there you have 5 articles of the Creed.

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come to the unity of the faith . . . that we be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine . . .” This is the outworking of Pentecost, the holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints. It’s action oriented. St. John of Kronstadt asks us concerning this article of the Creed, “Do you believe that all Orthodox Christians are members of one and the same body . . .? . . . Do you respect every Christian . . .? Do you love everybody, as yourself, as your own flesh and blood? Do you generously forgive offenses? Do you help others in need? Do you teach the ignorant? Do you turn the sinner from the error of his ways? Do you comfort those who are in affliction? Faith in the Holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church inspires, obliges you to do all this; and for all this you are promised a great reward from the Head of the Church – our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3]

               In our Gospel lesson, the Christian and Catholic Church is described as branches of the true Vine, Christ. True branches of the True Vine, which bear True Fruit, not false fruit, such as the heretics produce. These false fruits shall be burned up as withered branches. If you live in the Middle East, or any kind of arid climate, what is it that produces withered branches? Scorching sun and lack of moisture, yes, but also dry wind; so it is with the heretics. They preach hot air and don’t feed you with nutrients of truth. Nutrients of Truth flow, in contrast, through the life of Holy Church, through the Sacraments, until the end of time. Genesis 2 says, “there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.” The preaching of the word is such a misty, rather than dry, air, and it produces lush fruits. The Raisuli, played by Sean Connery, said this, “I am the true defender of the faithful and the blood of the Prophet runs in me and I am but a servant of His will.” Do we believe this about ourselves as they do about themselves? Are we true defenders, true lions, of our Holy Faith? Do we believe that by baptism and reception of Holy Communion, we as true branches of the true Vine, have the blood of the Messiah running, supernaturally, through our veins? Do we believe that we are instruments of his will, bearing fruit according to His Word?

               Far too many Christians are like the Wind, not staying in one place, shifting ground, unsure of what ground to stand on. But we have the opportunity, time and again, to reclaim our heritage, our place in the Holy Catholic Church, as branches of the true vine, abiding in Him, until the end of time. What is our goodly heritage? Jeremy Taylor said this, “If we go into the fields, we find them tilled by the mercies of heaven, and watered with showers from God to feed us, and to clothe us. If we go down into the deep, there God hath multiplied our stores, and filled a magazine which no hunger can exhaust. The air drops down delicacies, and the wilderness can sustain us, and all that is in nature, that which feeds lions, and that which the ox eats, that which the fishes live upon, and that which is the provision for the birds, all that can keep us alive.”[4] He said it about the natural world. How, when such things have been provided to us through natural nutrients and supernatural sacraments, can we still fail to produce fruit? It can still happen. Bishop Taylor gives us this advice, “It is considerable, that the fruit which comes from the many days of recreation and vanity is very little; and, although we scatter much, yet we gather but little profit: but from the few hours we spend in prayer and the exercises of a pious life, the return is great and profitable; and what we sow in the minutes and spare portions of a few years, grows up to crowns and sceptres in a happy and glorious eternity.”[5] Let us pray.

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the examples of Thy Saints may stir us up to a better life, so that we who celebrate their solemnities, may also imitate their actions; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[6]

[1] Traditional Lutheran Hymnal, 1941, page 90.

[2] Question 44

[3] John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, 389

[4] Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living: A Year Book of Thoughts from the Works of . . ., 216.

[5] Ibid, 337

[6] Bright’s Ancient Collects, 69

Second Sunday after Easter, 2021

In 2006, a movie was released directed by Robert de Niro called The Good Shepherd. It claimed to be a bit of a history of the CIA coming into existence. I don’t know how historically accurate it was, but I had the unusual opportunity to review it before it came out, with all of the uncut scenes and with what might be called multiple endings. We were then asked to fill out a survey so I guess Robert de Niro could figure out the most popular ending for the movie. A bizarre experience indeed. I wasn’t crazy about the movie either and I’ve been meaning for years to watch it to see if he used any of my recommendations, but I haven’t and I can’t remember what my recommendations were anyway.

          This brings me to a bit of what I want to talk about today, the relationship between suffering and being a good shepherd because all of us, in our capacity as Christians have the opportunity to be good shepherds after the example of Christ – not by our own strength but because we are part of the Body of Christ, the Church. We are called to this, again, not by our own strength, and it’s when we try to do it in our own strength, with our own brains, and without humility and prayer that we start to run into trouble.

          If you read a commentary on the idea of the Good Shepherd, you will likely run into the notion that it’s a very middle eastern cultural thing. They’ll even sort of hint that the “pastoral” parts (pastoral, the word, is itself related to the pasture, where the sheep are kept) of the Bible were influenced by Zoroastrianism, which also has some pastoral language. But, of course, the Middle East is not the only place where sheep are raised. In fact, it’s just a great concept because it’s an analogy that works the world over.

          In Plato’s Republic, sheep and shepherds is set forward as an analogy for that relationship which is between ruled and ruler. Egyptian Pharoahs have both the rod and shepherd’s crook in their hands. More precisely, there is the concept of the “Guardians” in Plato’s Republic that I think is important here.  Guardians, in Plato’s conception of the ideal city, are those persons who, below the Philosopher-King, take care of the city. The education of the Guardians includes the gymnasium and music – one balances the other. In advising St. Timothy, St. Paul refers to the gymnasium saying, “bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things. . .” (1 Tim. 4:8). Plato somewhat agreed, feeling that the good soul produced right action, and therefore one would exercise in moderation and towards the right end (being a good guardian) rather than to excess, and one wouldn’t listen to too much music either and become soft.

          But we have to admit that any time in the gym is suffering, that’s why we struggle to go there rather than to watch television. In Sparta, where every citizen was chosen to be a guardian, every citizen was a citizen-soldier, and was exposed to the harshest conditions in youth on up and trained up for war. Plato doesn’t think everybody should be trained up for war and that those who are trained up should be balanced, well-rounded, moderate. In today’s epistle, we hear the words, “This is thank-worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief . . .” Here is the same connection between suffering and godliness (or conscience toward God) as we see in St. Paul to Timothy. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth . . .” Again, suffering is to serve godliness, just as bodily exercise, i.e. the gymnasium, should serve godliness, which is uniquely profitable at all times and in all places.

          In the Prayer Book, we can say that there are two, almost three, places where the language of the Good Shepherd is specifically used. In the Ordination to Priesthood is said, “And now again we exhort you . . . that ye have in remembrance, into how high a Dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called: that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad . . .” And, “Have always therefore printed in your remembrance how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood.” In the consecration of a bishop is said, when the Bible is delivered to him, “Be to the flock of Christ a shepherd, not a wolf; feed them, devour them not.” This phrase was, in the ordinal of 1550, was actually said when the consecrating bishop handed to the new bishop the crozier, or shepherd’s crook.[1] And in the Office of Institution of a Rector, the Good Shepherd is often referenced.

          In addition to the clergy, we have other guardians in the Anglican church. These are the caretakers of the church’s temporalities, the churchwardens and even the verger. The churchwardens have staves traditionally belonging to their office, the verger a wand – literally a mace. Their job too, is to ward, to guard. Not only do they have the legal right in England to arrest those who are causing trouble on church property, but they have historically had the canonical duty of presenting to ecclesiastical court those who are, for example, missing church too often.

          Yet all of us have the duty, as Christians, to guard or shepherd our hearts from evil, from sin. It’s fascinating to think about because Plato’s Republic is about the ideal or just city, but in discussing that he’s actually talking about the ideal, the just, the well-ordered and well-balanced soul. These guardians of which he speaks are actually folks who aren’t easily swayed by passions and emotions, but keep them in check, and then they keep the city from running away with itself. In our soul, we execute the virtues as our guardians, to serve the Philosopher-King of our souls, which is Holy Wisdom. This is not perfectly consistent with Plato, but when we think of our souls as the Temple of the Holy Spirit, Holy Wisdom, we know that we have the duty to guard that precious gem, and to ward of evil, to trip and thwart evil in our hearts with a mighty stave, to crush that serpent’s head with a mighty mace. For “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Whosoever is led by this Philosopher-King, Holy Wisdom, or the Spirit of God, is a son of God.

           Now, I want to speak just a moment about, HRH Prince Philip, whose funeral was yesterday. His job was to be a guardian of the Queen, to be her husband. It was a unique role not often seen in history. Queen Elizabeth insisted at her wedding to say the “and to obey” clause in her marriage vow in accordance with the 1662 BCP, but directly after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s and all the Bishops’ oath of allegiance to her at her coronation came the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, to pledge fealty. “I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh do become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks. So help me God.” (Prince Philip had already renounced any claim that he might have on the thrones of both Greece and Denmark.) This was a man whose father and mother were royalty in Greece and Denmark, but had to flee Greece when he was 18 months old. He saw his mother, something of a Greek Orthodox nun, succumb to schizophrenia. He lost many of his immediate family in a plane crash. He was trained in a vigorous but not abusive school under the noteworthy educator Kurt Hahn, first at Hahn’s school in Germany, and then fleeing the Nazis since Hahn was a Jew, at a boarding school in Scotland. He lived through seeing his beloved uncle and guardian, Lord Mountbatten, assassinated by the IRA in 1979. Prince Philip’s task, however, was to be a guardian of the realm, officer and gentleman, Christian knight, and husband to the Queen, for which, I am sure, all of his sufferings prepared him for. They enabled him to do this one great duty for the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth and world. We might aptly say at his passing, “May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ make whatsoever good thou hast done, or evil thou hast endured, be unto thee for the forgiveness of sins, the increase of grace, and the reward of eternal life.”

          I might furthermore add another word from the burial office and from the Bible. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Let us guard, despite sufferings in many things, that “godliness” which “is profitable unto all things. . .” Let us entrust ourselves to the King of kings, the Shepherd of shepherds, and Guardian of guardians. Let us pray. May that God of Peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant: Make us perfect in every good work to do his will, working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight; through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.   


[1] Vernon Staley, The Ceremonial of the English Church, 181.

Easter Sunday, 2021

“He put upon him perfect glory; and strengthened him with rich garments, with breeches, with a long robe, and the ephod. And he compassed him with pomegranates and with many golden bells round about, that as he went there might be a sound, and a noise made that might be heard in the temple, for a memorial to the children of his people” (Ecclus. 45: 8-9)

Dorothy L. Sayers in her Foreword to The Nine Taylors, her Sir Peter Wimsey murder mystery from 1934 which has much to do with bellringing, states,

From time to time complaints are made about the ringing of church bells. It seems strange that a generation which tolerates the uproar of the internal combustion engine and the wailing of the jazz band should be so sensitive to the one loud noise that is made to the glory of God. England, alone in the world, has perfected the art of change-ringing and the true ringing of bells by rope and wheel, and will not lightly surrender her unique heritage.

If you are curious to what Sayers refers when she talks about “change-ringing” you can hear it for a few moments at least at the beginning of The Chieftains’ Christmas Album, The Bells of Dublin, displaying the exquisite musical art of the change-ringers of the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, or Christ Church Dublin. Perhaps the reason why Sayers’ generation tolerated the sounds of industry is because it signaled that men were working and families were eating. Certainly, since the word “jazz” means making love, jazz music gives voice for better or worse to the God-given passionate nature of men and women by which life is begotten. But very likely, a point I can make, of which Dorothy Sayers would likely approve, is that bell-ringing too is an indication of life, spiritual life, breaking forth in joyful praise to the God of Life. Bell-ringing was curtailed during World War One and, in fact, throughout Europe, many bells were transformed into artillery guns. Deacon Karl Munzinger, seeing the bells of his parish requisitioned for weapons of war spoke in a sermon on November 22, 1917, “They will speak a different language in future.” And “It goes against any feelings, that they, who like no other preach peace and should heal wounded hearts, should tear apart bodies in gruesome murders and open wounds that will never heal.” In the Church, the bells are silenced from Good Friday until Easter and a certain Pastor Penczek from outside Cologne commented, “the silence of the bells makes clear that something has fallen apart.”

The priestly garments of the Temple were made, according to Exodus 28 with a golden bell and pomegranate alternating around the hem of the garment of the Priest. Pomegranate, as you might recall from a study of ancient mythology – namely Persephone, who had to stay in Hades half the year because she ate of pomegranate seeds in that netherworld – pomegranates are symbolic of eternal life. Some speculate that the apple that Adam and Eve ate of was, in fact, if matched up with other mythologies, instead a pomegranate. So, we have the sign of eternal life, knocking against bells, making them ring as one comes and goes from the holy of holies.

In the tradition of the Church, we ring bells on Maundy Thursday during the Gloria and then silence them again until Easter, signifying, we might say, that our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, is entering into the holy of holies, bearing not the blood of bulls and of goats, but bearing His own blood, entering once in. While he is that netherworld, that Sheol, harrowing hell, the bells are silenced, so that we can not hear him for a while. Why can we not hear him? Because he has descended for that three days in the tomb to the souls in prison, preaching to them, ringing those bells for them. Thus we believe when we say that Jesus “descended into Hell” in the Creed. It is true that the world has fallen apart, but in falling apart, during that descensus ad infernum Christ was remaking the world with a sacrifice far more powerful than the sprinkling of blood from animals.

It was possible that the bells rang out from the vestments of the priest so that nobody would approach to him and touch him and making him ritually impure to offer sacrifice. As we have said, it is different now. And today we have a thurible with bells, which are very likely a continuation of the basic idea – incense is sacrifice, bells tell us where the sacrifice is. Bells tell us where the priest is. Unlike the Old Testament, however, we are not to stay away from the priest, but we are to draw near to the priest of the New Covenant, for the priest of the New Covenant represents the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is able to make us clean, because of his all-atoning sacrifice and glorious resurrection.

Today, the bells ring again. It’s nice to have them back and it’s nice to have Christ back. Remember that praise is what these bells signify, praise unto eternal life. When the warfare is ended, the bells begin again. We have walked through the three days of darkness: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday. The strife is o’er. The battle won. Let us pray.

Blessed Lord, who by an ineffable mercy and a blood-bought redemption has made us partakers of thy Sonship, and has promised to set us with thee before thy Father’s face; add thy prayers to ours, and ours to thine, and ask for us the blessing which shall not be denied, the living love, the Holy and life-giving Spirit: to whom, with the Father and thee, be Ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, dominion, majesty and power, henceforth and for ever. Amen.[1]

[1] Austin Farrer

Lent I, 2021

Let us consider now the fourth of those styled “Penitential Psalms,” indeed, the most well-known, Psalm 51. This Psalm is, by quite consistent tradition, that which David recited in the midst of his repentance. In fact that description appears in the title for this Psalm as it is in the Septuagint or Greek Old Testament (although that doesn’t mean it is true). It is said to be the very Psalm that David said in the midst of his repentance for lust with Bathsheba. Thus we can imagine, although 2 Samuel does not say so, that he is saying or composing this Psalm as he is lying, as if dead, praying that God would spare the child that he conceived with Bathsheba.

          We know it, more personally, as that Psalm which we recite together in the Penitential Office on page 60 of the Prayer Book on Ash Wednesday. This Office is, actually, a shorter version of that longer service known as A Commination, composed for the original Prayer Book of 1549. This Commination was begun, read from the pulpit, thus, “Brethren, in the primitive church there was a godly discipline, that at the beginning of Lent such persons as were notorious sinners, were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord. And that other, admonished by their example, might be more afraid to offend.” This is followed by reading “the general sentences of god’s cursing against impenitent sinners, gathered out of the xxviii. Chapter of Deuteronomy, and other places of scripture. And that ye should answer to every sentence, Amen.”[1] Those things then being rehearsed and the people calling that curse down upon themselves, if they be offenders in those things, and a quite long exhortation having being read, it was only then that Psalm 51 was recited, “Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness,” etc.  

          I want us to pause for a moment and take in the explicitness of this statement, “have mercy upon me.” Notice how personally we recite this Psalm. It was understood, by tradition, to be said when Nathan the Prophet “brought home” the personal nature of that sin which David, the King, the Lord’s Anointed, the Lord’s Prophet, committed with Bathsheba. Martin Luther said of the Devil that “one little word shall fell Him.” Well, with one little Word, Nathan the Prophet, felled David the Prophet, Priestly-anointed, King – “You are the man.” You are the man who committed this sin. We all, beloved, as baptized into the New Covenant, are baptized as prophets, priests, and kings. This reality we have in Christ. And so, when we sin, Nathan’s reproach falls on us as well. “You are the man.” The man who lacks likeness with Christ; at least at that moment, we lack that likeness.

          “Eleison me ho theos[2] is the Greek for this phrase, ‘have mercy upon me, O God” and we might well recognize that Greek from Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. But more directly, more personal, are the words of the ancient eastern Trisagion hymn, recited on Good Friday: Agios o Theos (Holy God), Agios ischyros (Holy mighty), Agios athanatos (Holy and Immortal), eleison imas (have mercy upon me). Here in corporate worship, in the worshipping community, it is not always that we say, “have mercy upon us” as if we could be asking mercy for the person who has sinned against us in the pews next to us, instead of us, but rather “have mercy upon me.” Let me try to elaborate and bring this method of devotion “home” to you.

          I said last week that I would get back to St. Gregory of Nerak. Not that we follow, as Anglicans, what Pope Francis says or does, but he, incidentally, just recently, in 2015, proclaimed this Armenian monk who was born in 945 A.D. a “doctor of the Church”. That’s noteworthy but what is fascinating is that Gregory of Nerak is the first one ever given that standing in the Roman Catholic Church that was never ever in communion with the Roman church. Remember, as I explained in the newsletter a few weeks back, the Armenians have been out of communion from the Greek and Roman churches since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. Part of the reason they fell out of communion was because their bishops could not attend the Council of Chalcedon because they were dealing with a national crisis, an invasion, at the time; no doubt, another part of the reason was because they had huge ties with the Syrian church, and when they got the Syrian’s report of that council in the Greek-speaking part of modern-day Turkey, they got a negative report. So, they followed the Syrians in not signing the Creed of Chalcedon.

In his work, The Book of Lamentations (which for the Armenians is a bit like The Imitation of Christ and they keep it regularly near their Bibles), Gregory of Nerak, follows an old Armenian devotional practice of reading oneself into the Biblical narrative. Thus one reads the story of the Prodigal Son imagines oneself the Prodigal Son.[3] This, I think, is a fascinating practice, not unlike the Ignatian Method of reading scripture, where you do, in fact, place yourself in the midst of the narrative. Perhaps this is why Pope Francis, a Jesuit, chose to give this status to a monk whose method of lectio divina was quite similar to that of the founder of the Jesuit Order, Ignatius of Loyola. We hear these words from Gregory of Nerak on the Psalms, that we should “daily seek the comfort of the familiar scolding voice of the Psalms” to “expose our guilty souls to the prosecuting voice of God.” In commentary on Gregory, Carlos Overstreet states, “The psalms, particularly 51 help us to remember that we are constantly wavering in our committment [sic] to living The Way. By joining our prayer to the Psalmist’s, we enter into the daily work of examination and repentance, which over time produces a vigilant mind and a humble heart.”[4]

          Now how can we do this in a devotional sense? You could, I suppose, say the Penitential Office every day this Lent. But another possibility presents itself to my mind. William Augustus Muhlenberg, a 19th century minister in the Episcopal Church, was the great-grandson of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg who helped set up the Lutheran Church in the Colonies, and the grandson of Frederick Muhlenberg (I used to live next to a town named after him and a church established by him in Pennsylvania), as well as the great-nephew (is that how you say it?) of Peter Muhlenberg, that Lutheran minister who proclaimed in the pulpit of the Swedish congregation of Woodstock, Virginia, “there is a time for peace, and a time for war,” and taking off his clerical gown revealed a Colonel’s uniform of the Continental Army. William Augustus had some plans for editing the 1789 American Prayer Book, some of which, I understand, were adopted. One idea of his that was that in Lent “day after day” at Morning Prayer “the fifty-first or other penitential psalms, [be] appointed to be ‘said or sung’ . . .”[5] Indeed, on a personal level, this might be possible in place of the Venite, exultemus Domino, or Psalm 95. Incidentally, when we end the General Confession at daily prayer, the first thing we say is “O Lord, open thou our lips. And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.” This is precisely what the latter part of Psalm 51 says, “Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall show thy praise.” In other words, at the very beginning of daily Morning and Evening Prayer, after a confession of sin, follows the “O Lord, open thou our lips”; and this is the progression implicit in the fifty-first Psalm.

          Again, in daily Morning Prayer, we move from Confession of “wickedness,” (verses 2 & 5), then we receive the assurance of pardon from the minister right afterward, and this corresponds to verses 7 (“Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean . . .” thru verse 12 (“O give me the comfort of thy help again . . .”), we ask that God open our lips for a purpose in verse 13 (“Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked . . .”), verse 14 (“and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness”) and, of course, verse 15 (“Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord . . .”). In Morning Prayer, which is consistently called a daily sacrifice of Praise and Thanksgiving by our Anglican Divines, we continue on with praise and thanksgiving following from the Venite, “O Come, let us sing unto the Lord. . .” Similarly, Verses 16 thru 19 of Psalm 51 talk about offering sacrifice in the temple now that we are cleansed. So you see that the logical progression of Psalm 51 is the same as the progression at the beginning of daily Morning Prayer in the Prayer Book. Psalm 51 is a logical progression to begin any time of prayer. 

          If you are looking for a devotional practice this Lent. It might be well to recite, at the beginning of Morning Prayer, as you did on Ash Wednesday, Psalm 51 – focusing on you, in the place of David, bewailing your sinfulness and crying out to the Lord. We bewail our sins in full assurance, of course, of forgiveness, foretold by the Prophet David in Psalm 51, and promised and assured by our Lord Jesus Christ, through His atoning sacrifice on the Cross.  

[1] Brian Cummings, ed. The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011), 92-93. (Editing done to make readable for the congregation from older English spelling.)

[2] Lancelot C.L. Brenton, The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 726.

[3] Here I am indebted to Bishop Vahan Hovhanessian of the Armenian Orthodox Church in his online lecture in Summer 2020 at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. Vahan Hovhanessian, “The Holy Bible in the Armenian Church,” (Accessed February 10, 2021).

[4] Carlos Overstreet, “Pray with the Psalms – St. Gregory of Narek,” May 14, 2015, Veritas (Accessed February 10, 2021)

[5] William Augustus Muhlenberg, A Collection of Essays, Letters, and Tractates, from writings of Rev. William Augustus Muhlenberg, D.D., During the Last Forty Years, Anne Ayres, compiler (New York: St. Johnland Press and Stereotype Foundry, 1875), 174.

Quinquagesima, 2021

The title given by the Hebrews for our third penitential psalm, Psalm 38, is “to bring to remembrance”. Is this a devotional sentiment? There is the same title given for Psalm 70. Some have speculated this idea “remembrance” is a liturgical notation, indicating that it was sung during a part of the Temple worship where “memorial” sacrifice of meat-offering and frankincense was put with the kindled fire upon the altar.[1] Perhaps this is so. Which raises a great question. How is that the Psalms, many of which were designed for use in the Temple worship and the Temple Sacrifice, can be brought over to Christianity?[2]

               We might answer this by a statement from St. Paul in Romans 12 verse 1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” The Temple was a place of sacrifice, a place of worship; therefore, a place of “service.” What we render now is not the service, quoting Psalm 32 (our sermon from last week), of “brute beasts that have no understanding,” (actually that’s from the marriage ceremony, but a pretty clear reference to Psalm 32) nor by sacrificing of such brute beasts on altars. Rather our worship is as the ancient Liturgy of St. James describes it a “reasonable service.”[3] So like the ancient Jews in their worship, so we render even better worship, through Jesus Christ “worshipping what we know”[4] and, therefore, since we offer true worship, we worship using the Psalms.  

               That being said, let us turn our attention to Verse 1: “Put me not to rebuke, O Lord, in Thine anger: neither chasten me in Thy heavy displeasure. For Thine arrows stick fast in me: and Thy hand presseth me sore.” Here the author connects up the idea of God’s anger, or wrath, with arrows. And this is a pretty consistent connection. Bishop George Horne says that these arrows and hand “are his judgments on sin; those internal pangs and terrors which pierce the soul, and those external afflictions and calamities which sink and weigh down the spirits.”[5] John Donne, propounding on this very psalm speaks about these arrows, preaches

Yea, let this arrow be considered a tentation, yet his hand is upon it; at least God sees the shooting of it, and yet lets it flie. Either hee tries us by these arrows, what proof we are; Or he punishes us by those arrows of new sins, for our former sins; and so, when he hath lost one arrow, he shoots another. He shoots a sermon, and that arrow is lost; He shoots a sicknesse, and that arrow is lost; He shoots a sin; not that he is authour of any sin, as sin; but as sin is a punishment of sin, he concurs with it. And so he shoots arrow after arrow, permits sin after sin, that at last some sin, that draws affliction with it, might bring us to understanding…[6]

The direct ramification this arrow, as it follows in the reading of this Psalm is, in fact, sickness and sin. “There is no health in my flesh, because of Thy displeasure: neither is there any rest in my bones, by reason of sin” (Verse 3).

The author follows this up, amplifying his discussion of sin and sickness with sin in verse 4, “For my wickednesses are gone over my head” like some kind of flood “and are like a sore burden” just as when water is on top of you, it presses down “too heavy for me to bear.”[7] Here we can remember the death through drowning that men by sin incurred in the time of Noah. Sickness is then evoked again in verse 5, “My wounds stink, and are corrupt: through my foolishness.” Verse 6, “I am brought into so great trouble and misery: that I go mourning all the day long.” Here in these two verses, dealing with sickness, we might recall Holy Job in his sufferings and in his state of mourning. Verse 7 “For my loins are filled with a sore disease: and there is no whole part in my body.” Whom might we point to in the Old Testament like this fellow? This one is a bit trickier. We could point to Job, couldn’t we, as we can for verses 8 thru 11. Yet here I would point to Adam more particularly and every man who follows from his lineage. In a sense, we can understand the very nature of sin according to the seed of Adam as loins filled with a sore disease. Yes. The idea of sin and sickness, and the effects of both, death, are strongly upheld in this Psalm as in others that we have studied.

It’s interesting: Many of us know about Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, and we probably can’t forget the poignancy of his elocution. “The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow is made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrows at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.”[8] Here he is elaborating on another Psalm, Psalm 7 verse 13 and 14, “If a man will not turn, he [God] will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. He hath prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors.” This talks about death, that “battle, murder, and sudden death” as the Litany in the Prayer Book proclaims, which we are to fear and should pray that God turn himself from it. Yet God is merciful.        

How is He merciful? He declares it in this psalm and John Donne has already explained it to us. The instruments of death have been prepared for us, of sudden death, sure, but also the instruments of slow death. Slow death? So many people nowadays ask that they not be allowed to “suffer” and that they die quickly. This is not how Christian people in time past saw it, I think, because they knew the mighty victory that Christ often won through slow death, a mercifully slow death. Jonathan Edwards, like the Litany, is warning people of the horrible tragedy of sudden death when it happens in the midst of unbelief. But sickness, actually, draws us to the Lord, hopefully, if health does not. Even a sermon a long, slow, boring sermon is better than a quick one if it brings people to Christ. St. Anselm of Canterbury prayed before sermon, “Let the words which thou wilt give unto thy servant be as sharp arrows and fiery darts to pierce the minds of such as do hear with thy holy fear and to kindle in them the fire of thy love.”[9] Yes, better a slow sermon than a quick one if it brings people to Christ.

It is true that Christian people also pray as the ancient Liturgy of St. James prayed, “Make the end or our lives Christian, acceptable, blameless, and peaceful, O Lord, gathering us together, O Lord, under the feet of Thine elect, when Thou wilt, and as Thou wilt; only without shame and transgressions. . .”[10] Surely, we pray not for a slow death of suffering to no purpose, but, instead, whatever might take us down, whenever it might come, without reproach, without shame, without transgressions, acceptable, blameless, and finally peaceful is the reasonable hope of every Christian. Sudden death without reproach is, on the whole, a reasonable hope. But if that sudden death be filled with reproach, sins not repented of, filled with transgressions we have not asked forgiveness for, let it rather be a slow death and not a quick one. As Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon says of this, “repentance . . . according to one of the last petitions of the litany [of St. John Chrysostom], . . . is something to be perfected (ektelesai) until the end of our lives.”[11]

We are going to skip a bit, but I want to draw your attention to the parts of this Psalm which are almost imprecatory. “Imprecatory” is when you essential curse your enemy and there are many such parts to many such psalms. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer made these parts of the Psalms optional, unfortunately, because as one commentator put it, “Some passages, not a few of them in the Psalms, are offensive to Christian taste and sentiment.”[12] C.S. Lewis points out that we could in fact “leave them alone. But unfortunately the bad parts will not ‘come away clean’” that they are “intertwined with the most exquisite things.” Lewis points out that, as the collect we know so well says, Holy Scripture is “written for our learning” and thus we should “make some use of them.” But what use, he asks.[13] Reardon says of these imprecatory parts where we curse our enemies instead of praying for them “. . . the demons are the only true enemies of the man who correctly prays the Book of Psalms. Nowhere does Holy Scripture exhort us to forgive or pity the demons. They are the only true enemies that our prayer recognizes. Unlike human enemies who are to be prayed for, the demons are always to be prayed against.”[14] His commentary is sound, although I certainly wonder if there aren’t other evils and “enemies” that we might likely pray against, such as microbes and bacteria and virus and cancer. Diseases are under the sovereignty of God, as are also the demons, and are more directly the medical cause of sickness, which, again, is ultimately the price we pay for sin.

So we see these enemies prayed against (or witnessed against) in this Psalm, although they are not outright cursed. Verse 12, “They also that sought after my life laid snares for me: and they that went about to do me evil talked of wickedness, and imagined deceit all the day long.” Verse 16, “I have required that they, even mine enemies, should not triumph over me: for when my foot slipped, they rejoiced greatly against me.” Verse 19 and 20. “But mine enemies live, and are mighty: and they that hate me wrongfully are many in number. They also that reward evil for good are against me: because I follow the thing that good is.”

We might be wondering where is Christ in all of this? I could have brought him up more directly before but let’s do so now. St. Gregary of Narek (945-1003 A.D.), an Armenian monk, whom we will discuss further next week, points to the Psalms as like the Cross, because they “promise restoration for the righteous” and they are “an assurance of salvation that triumphs over demons and the doubts of the Devil.”[15] How is it that they do this, but by turning us back to Christ in all of our doubts, trials and tribulations. Verse 21 and 22, “Forsake me not, O Lord my God: be not Thou far from me. Haste Thee to help me: O Lord God of my salvation.”

In Matthew 19, someone said to Jesus, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Jesus said back to him, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” When we follow Christ, we follow His Father and His Commandments, “the thing that good is.” Christ is that “Good Master” and His Commandments are the “Good thing” that we should do. We should follow both.     

[1] J. Gurnhill, The Companion to The Psalter, Consisting of Introductions, Notes, and Meditations, Contributed as a help to the Psalms in dailpy public and private worship (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907), 112.

[2] Here I am indebted to Bishop Daniel Findikyan of the Armenian Orthodox Church in his online lecture in Summer 2020 at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. Daniel Findikyan, “Bishop on Worship, The Psalms in Worship,” (Accessed February 10, 2021).

[3] A. Cleveland Coxe, Alexander Roberts, & James Donaldson, editors. The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 7: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, 2 Clement, Early Liturgies (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 2004), 543.

[4] John 4:22

[5] George Horne, Commentary on the Book of Psalms in which their literal or historical sense, as they relate to King David, and the People of Israel, is Illustrated; And their Application to the Messiah, to the Church, and to Individuals, as members thereof, is pointed out, with a view to render the use of the Psalter pleasing and profitable to all orders and degrees of Christians (Audubon, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1997), 173.

[6] John Donne, The Sermons of John Donne, Vol. 2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955), 67.

[7] Cf. Horne, Commentary on the Psalms, 174.

[8] Jonathan Edwards, Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 406.

[9] G.A.C. Whatton, The Priest’s Companion: A Manual of Instructions and Prayers for Priests and Religious (London: W. Knott & Son Limited, 1960),95.

[10] Coxe, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 7, 546.

[11] Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2000), 73.

[12] Massey Hamilton Shepherd, The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary (New York: Oxford UP, 1950), vii-viii.

[13] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Fontana Books, 1962), 24.

[14] Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, 76.

[15] Carlos Overstreet, “Pray with the Psalms – St. Gregory of Narek,” May 14, 2015, Veritas (Accessed February 10, 2021)

Sexagesima, 2021

We continue today our exposition of the Penitential Psalms. We remember how in medieval times in England, when the sick were visited, they were visited by the priest, yes, but also by the whole choir. All singing the penitential psalms, they would process to the home of the sick man and, then, would speak that apostolic salutation, “Peace be to this house” before beginning the prayers. This would be hard to do during Covid! Getting the whole village involved, however, goes far beyond our best churches, who lovingly bring chicken soup when someone is ailing. It is also a recognition that each and every sickness, indeed, each and every sin, is an ailment of the whole community. Covid has taught us, in our generation, what other plagues taught others in other generations. Sickness concerns all the people. If sickness concerns all the people, then sin, which is the cause of sickness, is a “reproach to all any nation” (Proverbs 14:34).

               As we pro-cess then through the next few weeks, we will be processing through the Seven Penitential Psalms. Last week we covered Psalm 6. Today, we will discuss Psalm 32 (page 377). When we reach Passion Sunday, we should hope for a deeper sense of who we are in sin, and who Christ has made us through His righteousness. While praying let us remember our cry to the Lord, “Correct us, O Lord, but with judgment: not in thine anger, lest thou bring us to nothing.” Let us pray. Let the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable unto Thee, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

What might strike us in the 32nd Psalm is how it doesn’t at first appear penitential. Psalm 6, our last penitential psalm, begins, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine indignation, neither chasten me in thy displeasure.” But this psalm begins, (Read Verses 1-2). Some have said that it, with Psalm 51, were written by King David concerning his scandal with Bathsheba.[1] Psalm 51 is before, perhaps, the child that they conceived together in adultery died, and Psalm 32 afterward. This one is called by the Hebrews, “Maschil,” which means “to consider,” or “to be wise” and instructs one in the fact that forgiveness is attainable and commendable.[2] (Verses 9-10) Alfred the Great in his commentary on the first 50 Psalms, “David sang this . . ., wondering at the unspeakable happiness of those men whom God forgives their trespasses and from whom he removes every travail, just God had often done for him. . . . And likewise he prophesied about every good man for whom God did the same.”[3]

(Verses 3 & 4). When we look at sickness or sin, there are both corporate and personal aspects to it. I recall the first time I was really faced with sickness. My mother took me aside after school one day and said that a kid in my class had brain cancer. For years afterward, there were community events to raise money for his treatment. There was a corporate and personal impact to sickness and, likewise, to sin.

               Let us consider the effects of sin in the Old Testament. You might know that I help at the local funeral home, and this includes being on call to pickup those recently deceased. After doing so recently, not having even showered, I came to the church to pray and I recalled with a start that, in the Law of Moses, I was unclean and shouldn’t be in the “sanctuary”. In Numbers, one who touches a dead body is unclean seven days and purifies himself the third day with sacrifice and if not, “whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel . . . his uncleanness is yet upon him” (19:11-13). In the Book of Leviticus, “And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes; Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother. Neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the Lord” (21:10-12). Tobit, in that Apocryphal book, despite being exiled from the land of Israel, doesn’t want to be cut off, he wants to stay connected with the tabernacle in Jerusalem. He says, “But I alone went often to Jerusalem at the feasts . . .”[4] When he sees that one of God’s people has been strangled by the pagan King Sennacherib, “Then before I had tasted of any meat, I started up, and took [the deceased] up into a room until the going down of the sun. Then I returned, and washed myself, and ate my meat in heaviness . . .”[5] After dark, Tobit buried him, but stayed in the courtyard all that night because of his uncleanness. He didn’t want to be “cut off” spiritually from the tabernacle in Jerusalem despite being a far off from it geographically

               David took seriously the Law about being unclean because Saul believes it to be the most logical explanation when David, now a member of his household, does not show up to family dinner (1 Sam. 20:26). David, having been anointed king, should certainly have taken these laws very seriously, given the restrictions on an anointed priest. Fascinatingly, after David and Bathsheba’s adultery, Uriah the Hittite, her husband, slept, like Tobit, outside, when made drunk and encouraged by David to go home to his wife. He said it was because his men were out in the field that he stayed outside as well. Uriah was a righteous man, spiritually in tune with good ethics. It did not feel right to him to go indoors, and without fully intending to, when following his soldier’s sense of honor, he, a gentile, fell in line with the spirit of the Law of Moses. Uriah had been in battle, near death. He stayed outside, as if unclean. David later “touched” death by conspiring to kill Uriah and needed to be “dead” lying on the ground in penance, before later washing himself, going back into the tabernacle to pray, and then eating.[6] (Verses 5-8) Yet there is still both a personal and corporate effect of sin. David and Bathsheba lost a child due to their adultery, then later in 2 Samuel 24, David says “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly” (10). David then had to choose between three things: Seven years of famine, three months fleeing before his enemies, or three days pestilence. (Verses 11-12)

               In Hinduism, working with dead bodies along the river Ganges is work for untouchables, people totally cut off from society, being of “no caste”. In Zoroastrianism, fire, water and earth are sacred and one cannot cremate a body lest that which is yuckiest come in contact with that which is purest. In the Law of Moses, neither a priest nor a Levite can touch a dead body, and the reason why it’s a Samaritan in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who ends up helping a man who has fell among thieves. The possibility that the mugged man was dead might well have been the reason why the Priest and the Levite stayed away.[7] But I, as an ordained minister, was not afraid to walk into the sanctuary of the Lord and pray after I had touched a dead body? Why?

               In order to understand this, we turn to the Book of Hebrews which says, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (9:13-14 ESV). As my mentor Bishop Hewett was fond of saying, “In the Old Testament, it is touch God and die; In the New Testament, it is touch God and live.”

               Traditionally, folks come together as a community for a funeral to mourn the dead, to celebrate a life, and on a certain penitential level to process failings in relationship (of which there are always some). In this sense, funeral directors have traditionally been community-builders, working with families in a town death after death and, in a certain, sense ministers of reconciliation, like the pastors themselves. They facilitate and help people become reconciled with the situation, reconciled to one another at the funeral gathering, and reconciled to the past. In a Christian culture, this is possible because of the “hope of the resurrection,” that God can raise us up, reconcile and heal us. That death is not so unclean now that God will raise the dead.

More and more, like other cultures that have no hope, as people draw away from God, they likewise draw away from traditional funerals. Funeral Directors become functionaries of the state, either embalming or cremating, but not ministers of the community, not helping as much to reconcile and bring people to terms, along with the pastors, with the situation as it stands. More and more, death is something that one is an outcast to touch, and a ministry that gives meaning to people’s lives is lost.

Beloved, it is important the we close with these thoughts: Psalm 32 is telling us of the effects of sickness and sin, yes, but also the Gospel, “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). Sin and sickness stand as a witness against us, personally and as a nation; death too. Yet in Psalm 32 we learn of Christ, Who is that blessed “man unto whom the Lord imputeth no sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” We learn the effects of sin and sickness (Verses 3-4). We are taught to call upon Christ and to hide ourselves in His righteousness (Verse 7-8). We are instructed in the way in which we should go (Verse 9). We learn to confess our sins and that when confessed they are forgiven (Verse 6). We are taught about grace, which restrains us better than bit and bridle (Verse 10). We are taught that we shall be saved with this grace when others are overcome with sin, sickness and death (Verse 11). And we are taught to rejoice about this (Verse 12). Let us pray.


O Almighty Lord God, who by thy wisdom not only guideth and ordereth all things most suitable to thine own justice; but also performest thy pleasure in such a manner, that we cannot but acknowledge thee to be righteous in all thy ways, and holy in all thy works: . . . . we do therefore here humble ourselves before thee, beseeching thee to deliver this Nation from blood-guiltiness . . . and to turn from us, and our posterity, all those judgments, which we by our sins have worthily deserved: Grant this for the all-sufficient merits of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.[8]

[1] J. Gurnhill, The Companion to The Psalter, Consisting of Introductions, Notes, and Meditations, Contributed as a help to the Psalms in dailpy public and private worship (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907), 93.

[2] Ibid, 93.

[3] Michael Treschow, trans., King Alfred’s Prefaces to the First Fifty Psalms (Ottawa, ONT: A.C.C.C. Convent Society), 21.

[4] Tobit 1:6

[5] Tobit 2:4-5

[6] 2 Sam. 12:20

[7] Luke 10:25-37

[8] Adapted from The Order for Evening Prayer for King Charles the Martyr, 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Septuagesima, 7 Penitential Psalms, Psalm 6

Introduction to the “Seven Penitential Psalms.”

  • These are simply a traditional category.
  • They can be seen in all sorts of different books of devotion.
  • More to the point, for our purposes, they were used in the medieval English (Sarum) tradition and said with their antiphons, in procession, on their way to a sick person’s house.[1]
  1. As we progress towards Easter, towards, we hope, a more perfect healing in Christ Jesus, we will be meditating on these Seven Penitential Psalms, Septuagesima thru to the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

Let us pray,

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.[2]

Psalm 6 is found on page 348 of the Book of Common Prayer.

  • The first verse, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine indignation, neither chasten me in thy displeasure” speaks of divine wrath.
  1. What is this divine wrath? It is due to “original sin”.
  2. The Catechism says we “being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath.”[3]
  3. Patrick Reardon says this on Psalm 6, “The divine wrath is not some sort of irritation; God does not become peeved or annoyed. The wrath of God is infinitely more serious than a temper tantrum. It is a deliberate resolve in response to a specific state of the human soul.”[4]
  4. Reardon then points us, in evidence, towards Romans 1:18-19. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.”
  • Verses 2-4 reveal the extent of this difficulty: “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed. My soul also is sore troubled: but, Lord, how long wilt thou punish me? Turn thee, O Lord, and deliver my soul; O save me, for thy mercy’s sake.”
  1. We should note that this difficulty that deserves, in some sense, Divine Wrath is couched in terms of health, in need of healing. Bishop George Horne, John Wesley’s own bishop, wrote concerning this, “The penitent entreats for mercy, by representing his pitiable case, under the image of sickness.”[5]
  2. We are given evidence that this is an outward and visible and inward and spiritual malady. Both body and soul are revealed as having a “sore disease”.
  • Verse 5 brings us to the temporal or terminal nature of this disease. “For in death no man remembereth thee; and who will give thee thanks in the pit.”
  1. This verse should be balanced with other places in holy scripture. We are reminded here of the verse in Psalm 139: 7, “If I climb up into heaven, thou art there; if I go down to hell, thou art there also.” So we should understand this as pertaining to the temporal plan of salvation. There is an expiration date on our bodies, but not on our souls.
  • Verse 6, “I am weary of my groaning” and I “water my couch with my tears” speaks to our grief over our expiration date.
  • Verse 7, “My beauty is gone for very trouble, and worn away because of all mine enemies.”
  1. Furniture disorder, “when your chest falls into your drawers.”
  2. There are not only spiritual adversaries but there are bacteria, diseases, all sorts of things that become our enemies in life, even though they are created by God, and subject to his power and will.
  3. We should remember that the “Last enemy is death” 1 Cor. 15:26
  • Verse 8-10 speaks about remembering the Lord as sovereign over all of these things.


We can’t turn back the clock. God created the clock. He made us and can remake us in Resurrection. We should trust in the Lord and praise him, while we have breath, and voice. We should call upon the Name of the Lord in confidence, as in Verses 8-10.


[1]“The Sarum form was as follows: The Penitential Psalms (vi, xxxii, xxxviii, li, cii, cxxx, and cxliii) were said with their antiphons in procession on the way to the sick person’s house; upon arrival at the house, the Salutation of ‘peace’ was given, followed by Kyrie, Lord’s Prayer, suffrages, and nine collects . . .” Massey Hamilton Shepherd, The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary (New York: Oxford UP, 1950), 308.

[2] Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent, 1928 Book of Common Prayer, 92.

[3] Ibid, 581.

[4] Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 2000), 11.

[5] George Horne, Commentary on the Psalms, 45.

Epiphany III – 2021 – “Does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?” Amos 3:6

Today we pray that God would “look upon our infirmities” and “stretch forth [His] right hand to help and defend us.” In Anglican moral theology, we have a distinction between sins not often talked about in the last century or so similar to the distinction between mortal and venial sins. This is the distinction between “sins of malice” and “sins of infirmity.” We might be able to say that “infirmity” is a lack of goodness or being-ness or rectitude which is perhaps not-willed completely and “malice” is a lack of these things which is completely willful. -More on this later.

            When we witness acts of violence and evil in the world, we can be faced with an inability to understand how anybody could be responsible. We can be faced with the inability to understand how God could be responsible. St. Augustine’s intuition that evil is not a thing, not a being, but a lack thereof, is often attacked for not taking into consideration that evil is, well, evil. You certainly can’t walk up to somebody whose wife has just been shot and say, yes, this is a lack of being. But you can walk up to somebody and say, this is horrible, I just can’t understand it. I have a sense that you have in fact said to that victim exactly what God would say. I think that God would say that He simply can’t understand it either. In non-philosophical lingo, God not understanding something is the same as a lack of existence.

          There are a couple of reasons for this. First off, God can’t make nonsense. You can’t ask him to make a round-triangle or a square-star. Most of you know this as Aquinas 101 or Chesterton 101 or C.S. Lewis 101. It should be Theology 101, but somehow the fact that God can’t make nonsense doesn’t get taught to people in most churches as quickly as “Jesus loves me” does. For our purposes, the full text of “Jesus loves me” should be “Jesus loves me as much as I am me and… in so far as I am not acting like myself, or the me that God made me, I am evil and God can neither know or love that part of me.” Put another way, “Jesus loves me and the part of me He doesn’t love is the part of me he doesn’t understand”, in the same way that you don’t understand a friend who turns on you for no reason. God doesn’t get it when we turn on him for no reason. Nonsense is certainly something that cannot be understood, logical gibberish. And God can’t have knowledge of logical gibberish. Only God has perfect knowledge of things, because knowledge and creation go hand in hand. You know a car fully, so to speak, when you put the car together.

          So you can see how evil is “lack of existence” and that the Christian reaction to evil and violence is the same response as the non-Christian’s and God’s – “I don’t understand how such a thing could happen.” Yet we have a text before us which says, “Does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?” We have already stated that God cannot understand what isn’t and I don’t just mean non-being, by what isn’t, one has to include dysfunction, chaos, broken down cars, etc. But wait. God does, ultimately, know why the car is broken down, better than any auto-mechanic out there.

          How many times has God allowed the car to break down when you had the money to fix it or just before you went on vacation or at the beginning of a vacation it turned out it was best for you not to go on. He allowed you to see that something was wrong with the car by allowing it to break down. Once it is discovered what is wrong with the car, the car is not always fixed, but usually if one understands completely what is wrong with the car, one can completely fix it. And it is the same with this passage. God allows the city to be dysfunctional, or chaotic, or broken, or plagued, to show it what is wrong with it. “Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” or auto-mechanics.

          People are plagued, however, by the idea that God causes evil. We know in Faith, rather, that God allows evil. They are not quite the same things. When the car breaks down we can use the term “understand” in two different ways. We can say, “I don’t understand why the car isn’t working” and we can say, “I don’t understand why the car chose this moment, of all moments, to break down.” God can answer both   questions and you can answer neither, at least at that moment. But when it comes to pure evil, God can only answer why he has allowed it, that He understands. But as to why it exists, or rather doesn’t exist, that even He cannot ultimately answer – because to answer why something doesn’t exist is pure gibberish. When we ask God to tell us why evil exists, we have asked him an illogical question, because of course it doesn’t and that’s what makes it evil.   

          And here we fail to understand God and that is simply an infirmity, unless we choose not to understand Him, and then that’s malicious. God, you see, is pure being, pure action. He is sovereign over the lack of being, the evil. He stands hovering above the void, the darkness. He is sovereign over it, but even He cannot know it or understand it, except that it’s there. He can understand that logical gibberish can be stated but not that it could be solved, because it can’t. Why then doesn’t He fill all things with being and quench the darkness and the void? And isn’t He responsible and blameworthy for not filling all things with his being and with his love? Here we must make yet another distinction.

          When God allows it to be cold outside, it is simply because he hasn’t made it warm. Now if you choose to make a room cold, to the discomfort of your family, friends and neighbours, you are responsible and blameworthy for that action. Similarly, if you see somebody walking across the street to shoot someone and you do nothing to stop it, you are, in some sense, responsible. You have allowed evil. But there is a difference between us and God. Our ability to understand evil, which is zip, zill, and nada, is the same as God’s. But His ways are not our ways and His time is not our time. Remember, again, that God is pure action. When momma says go home and build a fire so that it will be warm for the party it is only lack of action on our part which causes the room to be cold when the guests arrive. Similarly, our lack of action may be what allowed the fellow crossing the street to kill someone. But with God there is no lack of action, because he is by definition pure action and so even when he is allowing, it is not allowing with a lack of action but allowing with action. And that action, my friends, is what we call sovereignty and providence.

          He is precisely not culpable for evil because He is doing something about it, because He is the only one who can do anything about it. When we chose not to act, that was evil. But God’s allowance can never be choosing not to act, because He is the only one in all creation who is acting fully, completely, and without division. We when we are holy act through Him. His angels who have not fallen act through Him. They do so in part. He does so wholly and without parts. When the prophet Amos says that God has “done it” it is because Amos understands that God is pure action and so even His allowing is action, and good, even when it is allowing evil, whereas if we were to allow evil it would be inertia, lack of something, and also evil.

          My friends, God is without blame for the evil in the world, even though he has “done it”, as our text today says, precisely because He is without evil. Now, I know that sounds like logical gibberish, but I assure you it isn’t. If God is pure action then He isn’t evil. If God is pure being, then He isn’t evil. But to be sovereign over the evil, to be sovereign over the void, to be sovereign over the darkness, is to comprehend the darkness while the darkness comprehends not. Like us, He attempts to comprehend the un-comprehendible; He attempts to understand the un-understandable. He climbs up to heaven and He fathoms the great depths of hell. By way of analogy: He simply can’t attempt to unravel the knot, without allowing the knot to exist. He can’t, as the great auto-mechanic, fix the car without allowing the car to sit there. In these analogies, the knot exists and the car exists. But you can’t sit there and expect God to do away with something that doesn’t exist. As He did at the beginning of Creation, He has to, has to, has to, allow His feet to hover over darkness and then give existence, where non-existence was, to give understanding, where understanding was not, to comprehend what cannot comprehend back.

          God is there to stretch forth his right hand to help and defend us. God is there to mercifully regard the infirmities in our souls, in our limbs, in our minds, and yes, in our cars. He is there to stretch forth His hand to fix all of those things. But we must hold forth our souls for him to make righteous, and stretch forth our crooked limbs for him to make straight, and our minds for him to give understanding instead of misunderstanding. Just as in the beginning He made firmament where there was darkness, He wishes to make firm what is infirm. But it is most certainly malicious on our parts, to blame Him for causing the very thing He is willing to fix. It is a misunderstanding of God and of evil to believe that something without a cause could have been caused by God. Go ahead and join God in not being able to understand evil, but don’t choose to misunderstand God and his merciful, loving-kindness.     

Epiphany II/Sanctity of Life – 2021 – Abhor that which is evil, Cleave to that which is good

In our Epistle lesson today, we are struck perhaps with the simplicity of such an ethical system. It sounds trite. How can it possibly be that effective in all the complexity of life? Perhaps it works for some local yokel with little going on, but for modern people with modern concerns it just doesn’t seem to help us all that much. But it does help us if we remember the overarching principle that God is Sovereign. God is sovereign over the affairs of men. God is sovereign over all things pertaining to the ethical dilemmas of life.

               The very question, “how can it possibly be that effective in all the complexity of life?” carries with it an assumption that the complexity is ours to manage. It is not ours to manage. It is God’s to manage. As Luther said, “Pray and let God worry.” This “Pray and let God worry” is not to say “Ours is not to reason why” from Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Our rank and file of service to God is a Church Militant, to be sure. But taking such a position that we should just do the Ten Commandments and not “reason why” is something I wouldn’t advise; That is not Christianity. A caricature version of Christianity of this sort has been used in popular television and media against the Church to stereotype us as Lemmings, unthinking, unfeeling robots who can be directed in any direction by pastors preaching pounding on pulpits. No. We are allowed to reason why. We are allowed to think out the ethical dilemmas of life, to work out our own salvation in “fear and trembling.” These things are permitted by our God. But there is a limit. In our rational deliberations we are not permitted to become God.

               The very question, “how can ‘abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good’ and still navigate all the complexities of life?” presumes a Utilitarian perspective, basically that we are supposed to be able to figure out which action we might take will “promote the greatest happiness” for as many people as are involved. The problem with Utilitarianism or the “Greatest Happiness Principle” is that we are not allowed to play God and trying to figure what is going to make the most people happy is playing God. We can “reason why” but we also must fall back on “abhor that which is evil” and “cleave to that which is good” as the touchstone of ethics when things get complicated.

               We might then ask, “what is evil” “what is good?” That, you see, does require some thinking, a limited amount of feeling, and some education, but first and foremost some pretty clear ground rules and those are found listed out in the Ten Commandments. This is precisely what St. Thomas Aquinas said that we are to do, “avoid evil and do good.” It’s pretty much what St. Augustine said. It’s pretty much what the Church has said, at least when the Church didn’t want to play footsy with politicians and powers that be.

               When it comes to the issue of Sanctity of Life the principle “abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good” clarifies matters quite remarkably, clarifies them when things seem the most complex. “Abhor that which is evil” that is “Do no Murder” and “Cleave to that which is good” that is Good is Life, because God is Life, and God is good, and all things that He gives to us is Life and an abundance of it. What if you’ve been raped? That’s an incredibly complicated issue that, presumably, because I am of the male sex it is hard for me, as a man, to speak on. But I do not speak as man from the pulpit, I speak with God’s Word and God’s authority – and while we properly refer to God as a man, God transcends sexual distinctions. He speaks as firmly and lovingly to female concerns as to male concerns thru His Word. And still, the answer comes back, “abhor that which is evil” i.e. “Do not commit adultery” (which condemns rape) and “Do no Murder” (which lovingly points the victim of rape away from aborting any child conceived in the midst of rape.) And the answer still comes back, “Cleave to that which is good” which is Life, and in that particularly complicated and complex situation we are reminded of another Scripture passage, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). What could be a greater good than to bring forth life from the death that is rape? And in those cases when a child is aborted for being the product of rape, what could be a greater good than that God provides forgiveness and the possibility of healing for the mother and for the rapist alike at the foot of the Cross?

               Coming then to our Gospel lesson today, which is about a wedding, we are presented with a great complexity indeed, perhaps the greatest complexity and the greatest mystery – the mysterious relationship between men and women. In this complexity we find much miscommunication and misunderstanding that our spiritual adversary exposes and leads on the couple or the mother on her own to seek an abortion. Will the man be there? Will he be there financially? Will he be there emotionally? Will he be there for the midnight feedings? These pestering and penetrating questions are ones that I can imagine a woman finding herself newly pregnant will be asking herself repeatedly, and they are ones that better communication between man and woman would help to overcome. But so often that communication sadly does not happen. Sadly our spiritual adversary walks in to answer the question with negative answers. He won’t be there. He won’t be there. He won’t be there.

               So it is fitting that when our Lord begins to reveal Himself to His people He does so on the occasion of a wedding. It is fitting that he reveals himself in the blessing and distribution of wine, in overflowing wine and very good wine at that. You say, why wine? Because it is a sign of blessing and it blesses weddings in the Jewish culture, as it does in ours. We just use champagne. What were they doing while they drank wine? I could imagine that they were doing what those in every culture do with alcohol – they were toasting. And in this toasting were they saying “Cheers” as the English do, or “Salut” as the Italians do, or “skoal” as the Scandinavians do, or “Slàinte,” as the Irish do? What were they saying? “Lacheim,” as the Jews do, and what does that mean? It means “to life.” And life is what they came together to see in the blessing of a man and a woman in holy matrimony, and it is what Christ came to see and to bless as well.  

               I think with our natural Puritanical tendencies as Americans we are a little bit embarrassed at this part of Holy Scripture. Was Jesus encouraging drunkenness? Was he encouraging the lowering of inhibitions, of immorality, even encouraging the possibility of rape? I think not. To run out of wine was to run out of opportunities for people to bless the wedding, and to bless life, and to offer good wishes of life on those who had come together in matrimony. It was to run out of life, symbolically. Running out of wine, I imagine, was symbolically (or shall we say a bad “omen”) pointing towards death and barrenness in the marriage instead of fruitfulness and children – because wine is the product of fruitfulness in the fruit of the grapevine. The grapevine itself is a symbol of family relations, of lineage and connectedness, as each branch of the vine is connected up with other parts of the vine. Like a godly heritage, a vineyard takes years to develop and moments to destroy. It’s as fragile as married life, and as strong as married life. Christ said concerning his relationship with us, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” We are in Him, and He is in Us. The fruit of that is grapes, or the good works that we do by grace quite naturally flowing from our life in Christ.  

Essentially, my friends, the wine was symbolic and sacramental. It was used to bless the wedding and to offer life. A little bit of wine actually loosens the tongue and allows communication to happen better. This is why we offer wine at dinner parties and evening gatherings, so that we can socialize and open up with one another. Of course, a lot of wine loosens the tongue too much and causes problems – all things in moderation! So too we might push this a bit further and say that blessing the wedding with wine was to wish good communication on the newly married couple (or on those about to be technically and physically married – because the sexual relationship, whose natural most obvious fruitfulness is children, is the marriage). So when Jesus offered to replenish the wine, he was, in this first wonder of wonders and miracle of miracles, blessing that couple with good communication – because that would make them happier – and because, as we have already shown, bad communication between man and woman can have devastating and disastrous results.

Epiphany 1 – 2021

For something to be revealed, it must first have been hidden. For something to have first been hidden, even earlier it must have been hidden by someone and if it was a thing hidden by God, it was hidden for a reason. A sign is often an indication to look more closely. A sign is always something missing. Even if there is something new, it is always new in place of something that is missing. “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”[1] Instead of an empty manger, the Shepherds found a babe, swaddling clothes, in it. What was missing? Just plain old hay was missing. Instead of just plain hay, there was hay touched by the rump of a king, which is the very definition of a throne – something sat on by the rump of a king.

          A sign was also a star. “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” Instead of empty space, there was, in the sky, a bright star. There are two very important things to understanding signs; first, to figure out what is missing. It is to play the game, “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things is not the same.” The next is to interpret what the missing thing means. It does not do to call up the police if your car is missing, when it is simply that your wife has headed off with it to do errands. Someone who misinterprets signs and insists on the misinterpretation we almost always call insane. To believe aliens took the car, while the wife is having her nails done is not a good way to go if you are planning to run for public office.

          Blood is a sign. It is a sign of life. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:10). Where it is missing from the flesh, there is no life. It stands to reason then that this spiritual battle in which we participate, is battle. We either reveal God, by making the enemies of Christ to be missing or the enemies of Christ make the things of God to be missing, thus revealing the devil. It is either us or them. It is either Christ or the demons.

          One way to reveal God is to sprinkle the world with life. The Word of life is revealed, if death is missing. Christ the Word of life manifests life by his birth, his rebirth at his baptism, and his resurrection from death. In the Old Testament this happened often as well. Where the sin offering was made and the blood thereof was sprinkled around, sin was missing and the people were exonerated of their offenses – there was life. For example, one of many, many, such sprinklings, Lev. 16:15, “Then he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times.”

This is to manifest cleanness and sinless-ness where sin and uncleanness once were.

          The Feast of the Epiphany in the East does not read the lesson of the wise men, but the story of Christ coming to John to be baptized. On which occasion, God the Father revealed him as his son, “Now when the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22). This is also a manifestation of God in the water and so the Eastern Church blesses the water on their Epiphany. That water is then used to sprinkle around the homes in the parish for the Epiphany House Blessing. In the West, the same blessing is done, but since our Epiphany lesson in the West revolves around the coming of the three wise men, often the children dress up as the three wise men when the priest comes, and the three names are initialed: CMB – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar (the traditional names of these three kings of orient) which is also, Christus Mansionem Benedicat “Christ Bless this Home”. The priest uses specially blessed Chalk.

          This is a good time to manifest the baptized nature of the home. If the home is a home of believers, it is a “baptized home”. And as such, we reveal its baptized nature by sprinkling it with water, which is the New Testament sign of life, when once blood was the spiritual sign of life. It is a good time, as well, for the priest to inspect the home. The priests in the Old Testament inspected homes for leprosy (that is mildew) and other plagues. “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses” (Exod. 12:18). St. Paul speaks of the leaven at Eastertide, which is right around the feast of Unleavened Bread, which is Passover, as a sign of Malice and Weakness. He says, “Purge out therefore the old leaven, [“purge out” being a reference to that family searching for bread crumbs] that ye may be a new lump, as yea are unleavened.” Leaven, yeast, is like mold, like leprosy; they are spores that grow and grow.

The language used in blessing the water for house blessings is evocative of driving out that which corrupts. “O God, who for the salvation of mankind has hidden one of thy greatest sacraments in the element of water” (notice, hidden, in order to reveal something!) …pour upon this element prepared by divers purifications the power of thy blessing, that this thy creature, serving in thy mysteries, may acquire the effectual power of divine grace for casting out devils, and for driving away diseases; and that on whatsoever in the houses or dwelling places of the faithful this water shall be sprinkled, it may be freed from all uncleanness, and may be delivered from hurt. Let no pestilential spirit, no corrupting air, linger there. Let all the insidious attacks of the lurking enemy be dissipated; and if there be aught which threatens the safety of the peace of the inhabitants, let it be driven away by the sprinkling of this water, so that saved by the invocation of thy holy name they may be defended from all assaults.”

          Malice and wickedness accumulate in a home, like mildew. Sins accumulate: sins of immodesty, insincerity, inordinate accumulation of material things, abominations, filthiness, intemperance, gluttony and seeds of fornication develop like little mildew pollens.

          A Christian’s home is revealed more by what is missing than by what is present. A home in America is not unlikely to have some religious items around the house. That is just considered good taste. But what should be missing in a holy home are the things that we ought not to have. “The Fellowship of the mystery”, the mystery of that peace which gave us such joy at Christmas Eve when we put Baby Jesus in the Creche, is what the priest hopes to find revealed. That mysterious fellowship, between husband and wife, child and parent, individual and God, which is manifest in things missing: Malice (Anger), Wickedness (Pride), Contempt (Envy), Fornication (Lust), Idolatry (Greed – or the inordinate accumulation of things), Intemperance (Gluttony) and Uncleanness (laziness). These seven missing are the signs of a holy home. To reveal what is truly in our hearts to God is for God to pour his healing love on the situation. To reveal what is truly in our homes is to allow God to do the same. And when you open your home to a priest, it is so that he can sprinkle life and blessing, prosperity and good-will, peace and brotherly love. Christ says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”[2] When we open the door of our home to Jesus, no matter how disheveled and unkempt the home, Christ is all the more happy to make it his home too. He doesn’t care about a little dirt but he would like an invitation. He just doesn’t want to be missing.          

[1] BCP 99

[2] Rev. 3:20


Epiphany – “Burning Babe and Burning Bread”

In Robert Southwell’s fabulous 16th century poem, we have these words for thought:

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,

Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;

And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,

A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;

Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed

As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.

“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,

Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!

My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,

Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;

The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,

The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,

For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,

             So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”

               With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,

              And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

The allusion is clearly to the Christ Child, but also to the holy mass. Southwell, a Jesuit, was to suffer death under Elizabeth’s reign. Elizabeth herself, was a fan of his works, published anonymously and might have spared his life had she known it was he who went to execution for operating the Roman Catholic church in England, illegally. Yet, for all this, a hymn in our hymnal, hymn 39, still agrees with Southwell’s artistic license, “A Babe lies in the cradle, a little babe so dear, With noble light he shineth As shines a mirror clear.” Let us pray,

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant, that we, who know thee now by faith, may be led onward through this earthly life (especially through a devout and regular reception of Holy Communion), until we see the vision of thy heavenly glory; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ, who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.[1]

There, in England, Jesuits perceived (wrongly, I should add) that the holy mass was not properly revered. Thus “Alas . . . but newly born, in fiery heats I fry, Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!” Could be taken as an allusion to the holy mass, neglected at that time, so the Roman Catholics said. And we should remember the poem anytime we are tempted to ignore the wonderful grace and favor bestowed on us in His Sacrament of His Body and Blood, His Blessed Sacrament to us. Why might we understand it to be an allusion to the holy mass? Because Christ, in the manger lying, resembled that burning bush that Moses experienced in the wilderness, a bush burning yet not consumed, “If he do but touch the hills, they shall smoke” says Psalms, but here lies the Lord of glory, not consumed by said glory. The hay resembled the branches of the bush and the babe the fire thereon. And there is more to it than that. The church fathers often likened the holy eucharist, which we celebrate this night, to a burning bush, or the live coal that cleansed the lips of Isaiah, especially in the Syrian Church in the vicinity of modern-day Turkey.

          Thus we see St. Ephrem the Syrian, the great hymn writer for the ancient Antiochene Church, making this connection for us, in his Epiphany hymns and other such places. Consider these statements:

The seraph could not touch the coal of fire with his fingers,

          And the coal merely touched Isaiah’s mouth:

          The seraph did not hold it, Isaiah did not consume it,

          But our Lord has allowed us to do both.


In Your bread, Lord, there is hidden the Spirit who is not consumed

          In Your Wine there dwells the Fire that is not drunk:

          The Spirit is in Your Bread, the Fire in Your Wine,

          A manifest wonder, that our lips have received.

Again, working with the motif of Elijah’s contesting with the Baal Prophets on Mt. Carmel,    

Fire descended and consumed Elijah’s sacrifices;

          The Fire of Mercy has become a living sacrifice for us:

          Fire consumed Elijah’s oblations,

          But we, Lord, have consumed Your Fire in Your oblation.

Again, discussing Genesis 19:24, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone,

Fire descended in wrath and consumed the sinners

          The Fire of Mercy has now descended and dwells in Bread:

          Instead of that fire which consumed mankind,

          We have consumed Fire in the Bread – and we have come to life.[2]

More specifically talking about themes of Christmas, Epiphany, and the Incarnation, St. Ephrem says this,

See, Fire and Spirit in the womb that bore You,

          See, Fire and Spirit in the river in which You were baptized.

          Fire and Spirit in our Baptism,

          In the Bread and the Cup, Fire and the Holy Spirit.[3]

We should, therefore, remember that Christ is symbolically fire and light, in bread and wine, present but not consumed, ready to consume us with His love and favor if we would but approach and consume that Bread and Wine humbly and with basic belief in His words, “This is my Body, This is my Blood.”

          The Wise Men, we remember today, came from far away, to seek that burning babe, following yonder Star. How far are we willing to come? How far are we willing to stretch our understandings of science? How much are we willing to give up? When we see the priest raise that consecrated bread and that consecrated wine above his head for all to see, it becomes like that Star that those wise men followed, in order to find the King of kings, and Lord of lords, veiled in flesh – only this time He is veiled in Bread and Wine. We are wise if we follow those men of science who followed by Faith.

          St. Ambrose, ancient Bishop of Milan, and mentor of St. Augustine, said that we should understand the mystery of Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist in the same way in which we understand the Virgin birth, “If we seek [the natural] order, a woman usually conceives after intercourse with a man. And so it is clear that the Virgin conceived outside the order of nature.” He asks why we seek anything but the same sort of mystery when it comes to Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist. “Before the blessing,” he says, “one species is named; after the consecration, the body is signified. Before the consecration, it is called one thing; after consecration, it is called blood. And you say: Amen, that is: It is true.” Augustine agrees saying, “In the species of bread and wine, which we see, we honour invisible things, that is, flesh and blood. Nor do we give these two species the same weight as we did before the consecration, since we faithfully profess that before the consecration they were the bread and which nature formed, but after the consecration they are the body and blood of Christ which the blessing consecrated.” Ambrose again says, “Ordinary bread is on the altar before the sacred words; after consecration, from bread it becomes Christ’s flesh. How is it possible . . .? By consecration, which is done by Christ’s word.”[4] Again Ambrose says, similar to St. Ephrem, “This very bread which we receive in the mystery, I understand to be wholly that which was formed by the hand of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin’s womb and baked by the fire of the passion on the altar of the cross. For the bread of angels has become the food of men.”[5]

          We are to ask ourselves, “What was the significance of the presents which the Wise Men offered to the Saviour? In offering gold the Wise Men honored the infant Jesus as King; in frankincense, as God; as myrrh, as suffering Man.”[6] This Jesus, born King of the Universe, was eternally-begotten as the Son of God, and, upon the Cross, was baked in the fiery furnace of adversity, and will, in a few minutes, shine before us as the true and divine Star of Bethlehem, pure fire, which the astronomical Star of Bethlehem was simply a sign of. We are what we eat. And we are to become, as the 19th century Russian ascetic, St. Seraphim of Sarov said, we are to become “all fire.” We are to be completely consumed by the Holy Spirit. We can never become God, homoousion, as it is in the Greek, but we must become homoiousion, like God, sons of God, adoptive sons of the most high, radiantly clothed in holiness and light.

          What shall you bring then today after he has brought us so much? “How can we offer to Jesus similar gifts (as those Wise Men)? We can present Him with gold by giving up to Him what we value most, our will; also by giving alms in His to name to the poor. We can present him incense in fervent and devout prayers ascending to heaven; and myrrh, by preserving purity of body and soul.”[7] Let us pray,

Lord, if I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb; If I were a wise man, I would do my part; But, Lord, what I can I give you, just my heart. Amen.[8]

[1] Adapted from the Canadian BCP’s collect for Epiphany.

[2] The Luminous Eye, 104-105.

[3] Ibid, 94.

[4] Peter Lombard’s Sentences, Book IV, Chapter 2 (59), 53.

[5] Ibid, 56.

[6] Goffine’s Devout Instructions, Epiphany, page 57.

[7] Ibid, 57.

[8] Adapted from “In the Bleak Midwinter.”


Christmas 2 (On the Significance of Armenian Rugs in front of Altars.)

“Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with man…”

Our Introit for today begins, “When as all the world was in profoundest quietness, and night was in the midst of her swift course: thine almighty word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne.” For centuries, Prophets told of the coming of the Lord. As we heard on Christmas day, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets.” The words of the Prophets weave a revelation of a Saviour for to come; that promise is woven into various historic tales of woe: kings falling from grace, pagan nations invading, calls to repentance, indeed, calling out sinners, Kings, Priests and Peasants alike. The lineage of Christ is recounted by Matthew, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham . . . And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Mathan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.” Anybody studying genealogy knows how it looks like an intricate tapestry. Our introit today continues, “The Lord is King, and hath put on glorious apparel: the Lord hath put on his apparel, and girded himself with strength.” The Lord’s genealogy, as well as nature itself, is part of his beautiful apparel that he wears and it’s part of his strength.

          Christian art following the time of Jesus began to show such intricacy, evoking to us the various and sundry ways in which Christ was revealed in nature and His special Revelation of Himself in the Old Testament, evoking to us a tangled lineage, a hereditary path by which our Saviour came to us. We know this kind of artwork well from Celtic manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, taking well-known pre-Christian art forms and then, splendidly, transferring those art forms to serve a new Master, Christ. The same thing happened in Armenia in eastern Turkey and northern Iran, where, through the ministry of Gregory the Illuminator, the King of Armenia was converted from Zoroastrianism in 301 A.D. Thereafter the native art forms of intricate, interwoven, patterns were used, similar to Celtic art, to embellish the Holy Cross – again, evoking to the senses the beautiful and splendid way in which our God works, “here a little, there a little,” pushing and prodding us, poking His head out to show us his handiwork, His little miracles in our lives, and then hiding himself again so that we might wish to seek Him.

          Armenian Christians did this same thing with another ancient art form, that of carpet weaving. After the Christian era began, that old art form that once sat on the floors of houses, and more significantly the floors of tents out in the desert, were used to stand before the Holy Altar. Why? Well, because they are pretty, of course. But there is, as always, a little more to it. In fact, the Judeo-Christian heresy, Islam, chose to utilize these same carpets when they prayed, to such an extent that the Arabic word for “prayer” and for “carpet” is the same word. The practice of praying on carpets is originally Christian, being used for prostrations at the seven canonical hours of prayer in the Armenian and Indian Church, Ethiopian/Eritrean Orthodox. The Russian Orthodox Old Believers use one called a Podruchnik. But is the practice even older than that? I wonder. The Christian desert fathers in Egypt spent their week praying psalms and weaving and making mats, and baskets, out of desert materials. But let us go further back than that.

          The Book of Exodus clearly gives directives about walls and veils, nicely embroidered, (in which the Lord clothes himself, veiling his presence) for the partitions of the Tabernacle, and we are left wondering, what was on the desert floor? Of course, rugs were used by the nomadic tribes for the floors of tents. It seems possible that the use of rugs for worship predates Christian use because we read, “And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp . . . And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp. And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door . . . .” Furthermore, it says, “And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door.” We might then wonder on what were they standing when they worshipped? A rug? Very likely. But we do not know for sure.

          In the Armenian rug tradition, there is a transition from the Zoroastrian religious imagery in the rugs to the more Christians ones. The border of a Persian rug, superstitiously, is intended to create a barrier against evil. And inside there is often some kind of symbol of endlessness, like the Swastika of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism – not a Nazi symbol but one of Reincarnation. Zoroastrianism was a reform of the classic sort of Hindu paganism of Iraq and Iran, but this same wheel-of-life imagery continues to be seen. (It’s what we think the Magi, the three wise men, might have been.) Sometimes the Armenians, when they became Christians, transitioned this into a Cross, not artistically too dissimilar from a wheel-of-life or a Swastika. (Look at insert.) The Cross starts at the Incarnation. Jesus became flesh, garbed in the intricate tapestry of the human body, in order to be crucified.

          You see, as one of my old professors, Fr. John Heidt, explained to me, the difficulty with some of these older pagan philosophical traditions is that there is no way to get God into our world. How do you get the eternal into the temporal? Well, that’s easy if, with the eastern religions we just say that it is all eternal, it’s all just a continuous wheel-of-life. But if we are to say that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” that isn’t continuous. There’s a beginning and there, then, by logical contrast is an end, an end of the world. If it’s temporal, time-bound, how do we get God into it? How does he “leap” down “from heaven”? Now Zoroastrianism, what the Armenians believed before they knew Christ, had already gotten to the idea that there would be a bodily fight to the death between Good and Evil, a literal Armageddon, and yet they were still stuck in some respects in this older “It’s all going round and round in circles,” that they’d inherited from Hinduism, that the dragon was chasing his tail, over and over again. With Christ, however, things change. God proves, simply by clothing himself in the tapestry of human flesh, and getting the eternal into the temporal, that he can get us off the ridiculous merry-go-round of Reincarnation, from which Hinduism and Buddhism can’t seem to get unstuck, unless they get themselves completely unstuck from all reality, which just isn’t unstuck, strictly-speaking. The Armenians rejoiced at getting “unstuck” through Christ’s coming and made their churches to model, symbolically, the Incarnation.

          In Armenian churches, like our own to some degree, the Sanctuary (where the Altar is) symbolizes heaven, and the chancel, earth. No wonder then that the rug in front of the Altar traditionally has this sign of the endlessness of eternity, or the sign of the Cross, which is the sign of the Incarnation. The rug shows us the bridge that has been built. No wonder then that the rug is the tapestry that shows to us the Incarnation, Christ becoming veiled in the tapestry of Flesh and genealogy and dwelling among us. The Incarnation actually bridges that gap between heaven and earth and leaps down God from heaven to us. Indeed, so strong is their imagery of the Incarnation that the Armenians have two side altars, one is dedicated to John the Baptist and the other the Mother of God, Mary most-holy. This too is symbolically bridging the gap and pointing to the Incarnation, moving us from the Prophets to the Messiah-made-flesh.

          So when you come up to take communion, if you are looking up from the Altar Rail, you will see the Sign of your Redemption, Christ dying for your sins. But when you look down, you will see this rug on which the priest stands to offer the Holy Sacrifice. There in that rug remember the Incarnation of your Lord. If he never took on flesh, he could have never bridged the gap between eternity and us time-bound creatures. If he never took on flesh, he could never have died for our sins. And since the rug is a place where we prostrate ourselves before his majesty, and worship towards his tabernacle, look upon that rug and let your heart be prostrate in holy fear and reverence.      


St. John the Evangelist, Christmas 1 – “God from God, Light from Light.”

Today we remember St. John the Evangelist and I am reminded of a story that in his old age he would just repeat in his teachings and in his sermons how God was love and saying, over and over, little children love one another. It is fascinating to see that right after Christmas and right after Easter, we turn to the Epistles of John. Today, we turn to him on this Third day of the Twelve days of Christmas. And we turn to him on the first Sunday after Easter, as well, “For there are three” he says on the first Sunday after Easter, “that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.” John is a key witness to all that Christ did and said. As he says today, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled . . .” It is said of him, that the reason why he wrote his gospel was because in the later days, “heretics sprang up in God’s church and said that Christ did not exist before he was born of Mary. Then all the bishops of the people asked the holy apostle to compose the fourth book, and he extinguished the presumption of those heretics.”[1] The outworking of this kind of witness, to the confusion and destruction of heresies, are Creeds, and “God from God, Light from Light,” as we know, comes from the Nicene Creed. Let us pray.

O King of Glory, lift up my heart to the highest, that I may glorify Thy Name on earth, as Thy angels glorify it in heaven. Whatever I shall say or do, let it be to Thy glory, without seeking mine own; and from my mouth may this word never depart; Glory be to God, Three and One; glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Glory to the Father for having given me His Son; glory to the Son, for having become man for my redemption; and glory to the Holy Ghost, from whose love this work did proceed. Amen. (The Golden Gate)

In the ancient French baptismal liturgy from the 8th Century as we have it in, what’s called, the Gelasian Sacramentary, portions of the Gospels were read to those about to be baptized and it is explained why each Evangelist symbolically (as prophesied in the Book of Ezekiel) has the face of a man, or an ox, or Lion, or in the case of St. John, an Eagle. “John has the likeness of an eagle because he sought the greatest heights: for he says In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. This was in the beginning with God.” The next thing on the agenda that evening, during the Holy Baptisms, was the Introduction of the Creed to the Elect. “Dearly beloved, who seek to receive the sacraments of baptism, and to be born unto a new creature of the Holy Spirit: lay hold with your whole heart upon the faith which ye shall receive to your justification: and setting your minds upon right paths turn to God who is the light of our minds and receive the sacrament of the gospel symbol; which is inspired by the Lord and instituted by the Apostles, of which the words indeed are few but the mystery great.” The Nicene Creed was then chanted in Greek and then in Latin over the infants and then the following explanation was given: “Dearly beloved, this is the sum of our belief, these are the words of the Creed, not contrived by art of human wisdom but set out by God’s grace in a true order. There is no one who is not sufficient and fitted to understand and observe these things. Here is affirmed the one equal power of God the Father and the Son. Here is shown the Only-Begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit according to the flesh.” It continues on explaining the other points or “articles” of the Creed and then says, “. . . you may use the defence of this confession. For the power of such weapons is always invincible, it is of service to every good soldier of Christ against all the snares of the enemy. The devil, who never ceases to tempt mankind, must always find you protected by this Creed: so that with the enemy whom you renounce cast down, and by the protection of him whom you confess, you may preserve the grace of the Lord pure and spotless unto the end, so that wherein you receive remission of sins, you may also have the glory of the resurrection.”

          This is what St. John the Evangelist, whom we celebrate today, wants for you today. He wants you to know Jesus, and know Him truly, as He truly is. Not some figment of your imagination, or some idol celebrity nice guy, or some Confucius, simply expressing great sayings in poignant anecdotes and analogies. He wants you to know Jesus, by holding the mystery of the Faith without wavering. The Baptismal liturgy that we just recounted is exactly right, the Creed is a defense against the wiles of our spiritual adversary and there to make you wise unto Salvation. It stands as a witness to the truth, a confession to the truth, and glorifies God when it is said or chanted. The Russian Orthodox Longer Catechism of St. Philaret from 1830, explains well this article of the Creed that we are presently examining.

“What mean in the Creed the words Light from light?” And it is answered, “Under the figure of the visible light they in some manner explain the incomprehensible generation of the Son of God” (it is incomprehensible, beloved, we can’t really understand it) “from the Father. When we look at the sun, we see light: from this light is generated the light visible every where beneath; but both the one and the other is one light, indivisible, and of one nature. In like manner, God the Father is the everlasting light.” There St. John’s First Epistle Chapter One, Verse 5, is given as a proof text. “Of him is begotten the Son of God, who also is the everlasting Light; but God the Father and God the Son are one and the same everlasting Light, indivisible, and of one divine nature.” Given as a proof text of these facts is 1 John V. 20 as well, “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us [light and] understanding, that we may know the true God, and be in him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”

Today, we celebrate the life and witness of St. John the Divine, the Evangelist, who dealt in obscure statements hard to say and understand. In celebrating his life and witness, we celebrate the doctrine that he taught. I wish that it were easy to understand a conception like “God from God, Light from Light, Very God of Very God.” But remember, the same Apostle who gave us the Book of the Revelation, and statements hard to understand, also gave us something that we believe to be so easy to understand. How many times have you heard, “God is love.” This is quoting St. John himself. And how many times have you heard that same “God is love,” used to justify all sorts of behavior that is not at all loving to God or neighbor? It is not in the simple statements, and simple truth, that we are protected from falsehood and wrong, from heresy and schism, from devils and spiritual death. It is in the hard sayings, and the hard precepts, and in the mysterious facts of God that we are protected. “God is love” will protect you from the Devil, sure, but only when it is upheld by other holy facts, by the articles of the Creeds, by the Whole Counsel of God’s Word and the Witness and Confession of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Against the scoffers of this Holy Faith, and those who minimize that faith into the lowest common denominator and simplify it into ineffectiveness, we must say with St. John of Kronstadt, with tears in our eyes, “If some Christians cannot comprehend our Orthodox faith, its Sacraments, it proves that the minds and hearts of such persons are too impure and passionate to bear its purity and brightness, just as sick eyes cannot bear the light of the sun.”[2] Let us pray.

O Thou God of infinite mercy and compassion, in Whose hands are all the hearts of the sons of men, look, we beseech Thee, graciously upon the darkened souls of the multitudes who know not Thee. Enlighten them with the saving knowledge of the truth. Let the beams of Thy gospel break forth upon them, and bring them to a sound belief in Thee, God manifested in the flesh. . . . Grant this, through Jesus Christ. Amen. (Bishop Hall) 


[1] Aelfric, St. John the Apostle, Anglo-Saxon Spirituality, 105.

[2] My Life in Christ, 328.


Christmas Eve – Tidings of Comfort and Joy

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them . . .”

Beloved, we are brought to this night when our sense of the world has been shaken, by pandemics, by elections, and events following an election. It has been difficult to know what our duty is, in which course it lies, and what will be the result when we follow it. Shall we wear masks, shall we accept a new vaccine, what shall be the result of changes in elected leaders?

It should be a comfort, therefore, to read and mark in holy Scriptures when and at what times Angels have brought glad tidings of great joy. We shall find that it was when men, although imperfectly understood and imperfectly performed, have been attempting to perform their duties. This is when Angels have appeared to men, with tidings of great joy.

The first is when our first parents, Adam and Eve, were brought into desolation and reproach, stripped naked in the eyes of Angels, in their own eyes, shamed before the eyes of their children, great grandchildren, and every age of man that has come and will come until the end of the Age.

In the midst of the great desolation, we read, “So [God] drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” Here there is bad news – a fearful Cherub and a flaming sword. Here there is good news – to keep our first parents from the tree of life, “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” in a state of sin and reproach. There is more good news accompanying this vision of angels – a rebuke to the Serpent, Satan, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise its heel.”[1] This “seed,” St. Paul identifies as “Christ” in the Galatians 3:16, where he identifies the same seed as the seed of Abraham, in effect, the Messiah. “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Thus in Genesis 3, elucidated by Galatians 3, we have the Protoevangelium – the first proclamation of the Messiah to come. This is in a chapter where Angels came and ministered to Adam and Eve, through a flaming sword.

The same seed is proclaimed as forthcoming in the midst of an Angelic vision, filled with “tidings of comfort and joy,” when three Angels visited Abraham in Genesis 18. There they proclaimed that Abraham would have a son by Sarah. That son, Isaac, by holy lineage, was of that Seed, and would become the forebear of the Messiah. There Abraham was seeking to do his duty, although imperfectly, to provide for a son and heir to his people who had placed themselves under his care as a desert chieftain.

When that son was provided, Abraham was asked to sacrifice that firstborn son, Isaac. In fulfilling the duty of holy piety, to love God before and above all things, Abraham, again saw a vision of an angel, with “tidings of comfort and joy.” “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” More tidings of great joy accompanied this visitation and Abraham learned that God would indeed offer His own self a Sacrifice, and we know that that Sacrifice was Christ dying on the Cross for us miserable sinners. Again the Angel provided tidings of great joy saying, “because  thou hast done this thing, and has not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven . . .”[2]

We see that Tobit, in the Apocrypha, when trying to perform the corporal work of mercy, burying the dead, when performing almsgiving, and when providing a bride for his pious son, saw a vision of St. Raphael, who healed his blindness.

We see that Zechariah saw a vision of St. Gabriel who told him of his son to come, Jesus’ cousin, John Baptist – and this while he did his duty in the temple.

We see that St. Joseph saw a vision of an Angel when he attempted to discern the will of God, whether he should put St. Mary away quietly with a writ of divorce, according to the Law of Moses.

We see that Mary, while performing, according to Holy Tradition, the devout prayers of the Israelite Church, said from Nazareth and perhaps towards the Temple at the time of the Sacrifice, then and at that time was visited by the Angel Gabriel as well.

Today, we see, that Shepherds, on duty, watching their flock by night, lest wolves came to devour them, saw as well a vision of Angels, telling of the birth of our and their savior.

We should be comforted in this, beloved, that in the midst of trying, to the best of our ability, in these difficult and uncertain times, to do our duty, we shall be comforted by Holy Angels. In submitting our lives wholly to Christ, we are reminded, on the most holy night, that Christ asks us only to do our duty, humbly, without pretense to perfection. He is our perfection, and he will do what he has set out to do, to save mankind from his sins, and open the gates of paradise.


[1] Gen. 3.

[2] Gen. 22

Second Sunday in Advent 2020 – Behold the hour is at hand… To be reading Scripture

An Anglo-Saxon Sermon from the ninth century preached: “Let us now see and acknowledge and zealously perceive that the end of this world is very near and that many perils have appeared and the evil deeds and wrongdoings of the people have multiplied. And from one day to the next we hear of unnatural torments and unnatural deaths that have come upon people throughout the nation. And we often see nation arise against nation and disastrous battle arise in wicked deeds. . . . Likewise we also hear about various plagues and growing hunger in many places of middle earth. . . . Such are the signs that just now I have mentioned of the troubles and dangers of this world.”[1] It sounds like the six o’clock news doesn’t it? And yet, it is my duty, even though Christ has not come in the eleven-hundred years since that sermon was written, to quote it to you. It is even more true today. St. Paul told us last week, “now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” We can only go forward. Are things better or worse than they used to be? That too is a great question. In the Prophecies of St. Niphon of Constantia from the 4th Century, a young monk asked the saint, ‘“There has been an increase in the number of holy men throughout the world today. Will it be so in the last days?” To such an inquiry, the blessed one answered: “My son, Prophets of the Lord God will not be in scarce supply in the last days, yet the same applies for those who serve Satan.”’

Let us pray, O God, the Life of the faithful, the glory of the lowly, and the Blessedness of the righteous; graciously hear the prayers of Thy servants, that the souls which thirst after Thy promises may be filled with the abundance of Thy love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

          Today is Holy Scripture Sunday. The theme is also one of fleeting time, the preciousness of it, and the joy of those gentiles who have received the Word of God. I can stand up here and tell you in many words how Scripture is true, it is inerrant, it is infallible, it is God’s Word and it is His love letter to us. All of that is true. It is so very true. But knowing that will do you no good unless your life is orderly enough to find time to read Scripture. I am not talking about some fifteen minutes in between a ninety-nine-cent heart attack and your cell phone going off. That is a sure-fire way to get indigestion and heart burn; that is a sure-fire way to get spiritual indigestion and to let your heart grow cold instead of burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Fifteen minutes of Bible reading in between your Hardee’s and your heart burn is better than nothing, just as Hardee’s is better than no lunch at all. But we pray today, “Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them”. “Hear them”, where? – In the church. “Read them”, to whom? – Your children, parents, friends, family, “Mark them”, with what? – A highlighter, pen, pencil, with your mind. “Learn them”, by what? – Memorization. And inwardly digest them, not “indigest” them.

           This happens by having your whole day ordered properly. Not that you “find” time for reading Scripture but so that you find time to do everything else, all the relatively unimportant stuff. It may not be a nine-to-five kind of world anymore and that may be an excuse not to be using your kitchens and to be eating out more. It is no excuse to be eating over your Bibles. Wives rarely are at home to make dinner and clean the house all day, but we don’t consider that an excuse to have a dirty house. And needing to clean the house in a two-income world is no excuse for not cleaning out our souls with Scripture. You may have to rush through dinner to make it to an evening activity. That is no excuse to be rushing through your Bibles. You shouldn’t need to find time. I shouldn’t need to find time. That is a first sign that Satan is winning. It is the first sign that the sun, the Son of God, is falling out of your lives. It is the first sign that the demons are mooning you, mocking and scolding you. It is the first sign that you are walking starry eyed into hell fire instead of Holy Spirit fire.

We cannot, beloved, underestimate the power of the Word of God read and heard. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky, uses his character the Russian Orthodox Fr. Zossima, based on the historic St. Tikhon of Zadonsk to elucidate this point. He says, “What a book the Bible is, what a miracle, what strength is given with it to man. It is like a mould cast of the world and man and human nature, everything is there, and a law for everything for all the ages. And what mysteries are solved and revealed…” He says of it read at home: “precious memories remain even of a bad home, if only the heart knows how to find what is precious. With my memories of home I count, too, my memories of the Bible, which, child as I was, I was very eager to read at home.” Of hearing it read in the church he says, “But even before I learned to read, I remember first being moved to devotional feeling at eight years old. My mother took me alone to mass…. It was a fine day, and I remember to-day, as though I saw it now, how the incense rose from the censer and softly floated upwards and, overhead in the cupola, mingled in rising waves with the sunlight that streamed in at the little window. I was stirred by the sight, and for the first time in my life I consciously received the seed of God’s word in my heart. A youth came out into the middle of the church carrying a big book, so large that at the time I fancied he could scarcely carry it. He laid it on the reading desk, opened it, and began reading, and suddenly for the first time I understood something read in the church of God.” He went on to lament that his brother priests did not gather the children of the parish together weekly and read the Scriptures to them.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, that great founder of Cistercian monasteries, saw that the Holy Scriptures had lost their centrality in the daily lives of the Benedictines and sought to restore its centrality through the establishment of Cistercian monasteries. He said of Advent. Venit: Ad homines. He comes to men. Venit: in homines. He comes in men. Venit: contra homines. He comes against men. Venit: Ad homines. He has come to men. He has left a record of it in his Word. He will come again to men, in power and great glory. Venit: in homines. He comes in men, through inward digestion of his Word and Sacrament. And if he comes again and finds nothing in you worthy of himself, then Venit: contra homines – he comes against you, as is written in Leviticus, “I will set my face against you.”

It is no longer a nine-to-five world. As spiritual children, I want you eating right. I want you exercising. I want you involved in the community. I want you to find time for recreation. But one of the great blessings I want for you, I want you reading Scripture. At the expense of all of those things, I would rather you were reading Scripture. Perhaps if we “seek his kingdom first” all the other things will fall into place. During this Advent season, feel blessed, be blessed, but more than feelings, be reading Scripture. The pre-Christmas season is a special time to be with family, to feel holiday cheer, to watch great movies and attend wonderful community events. The pre-Christmas season is also a special time to be stressed out, outside your budget, busting at the seams from too much food, festively leaving your debit card places. Before you go make yourself feel better with some hot chocolate or hot toddy; before you reach for your antacid or aspirin; reach for your Bible. Try that next to a cozy fire for a good hour or so, and then see how your Advent season starts to go. “Behold the hour at hand” to be reading Scripture.

Let us pray. “O Lord Jesus Christ, God of God, and Light of Light, guide us by Thy Holy Spirit to an ever-increasing knowledge of Thee.”[2] “Lord God, if in this I have said anything that is Thine, Thine own will recognize it. If I have said anything which is mine, or contrary to the Catholic religion, do Thou and Thine forgive it. . . . and bring us all to that Vision glorious where we can no longer err, but only adore, . . .”[3] The Father, etc. Amen.

[1] Blickling Homily X, The End of the World.

[2] Fr. Francis J. Hall, 1915.

[3] St. Augustine, “On the Trinity,” 15:51.

Sunday next Before Advent 2020

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch . . .”

As I contemplate the lessons today, I remembered two fascinating stories. They both come from the English gardening show that my wife has been watching recently. She says that it comforts her, and I can certainly understand that, now at this time as wave after wave of disturbing news reaches us and seems to shoot up unexpectedly from the earth. Such times as we see today are definitely prophesied by Christ, “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity . . .” He saw it coming. Nevertheless, unchanging and ever-changing and not concerned with the winds of change, the flowers keep sprouting and blooming. This too should signal to us that Christ is still in control.

          The first story I shall tell is of a certain variety of Cherry Blossom from Japan that went practically extinct in Japan. In the midst of volcanic explosions and tsunamis, much was lost and Japan, looking for a sign of unity and strength, planted one particular variety of Cherry to the exclusion of others. Especially when they beat Russia in the early part of the last century, they used it as a sign of national victory. Unfortunately, the very diverse varieties produced by different feudal lords in their private gardens were forgotten as this unifying principle of the fascist Divine Emperor overshadowed the previous feudalism of warring clans and unswerving loyalty to the Daimyo, the lord. The Cherry Blossom, as I’m sure you’re aware, is hailed as the philosophical symbol of the Samurai, ready to live in splendor and write poems about beauty but ready also to die at a moment’s notice, just as the Cherry Blossom falls beautifully to blanket the lawn, itself the picture of blood spilled in battle. In the midst of industrialization and commercialization of a country projected forward by nationalism, like swine over a cliff, projected ferociously towards world war, certain varieties of the Cherry Blossom were lost to the Island and found, like bread cast upon the water, on another Island far away, indeed, in Britain because of a fellow by the name of Charles Collingwood. The “Great White Cherry” he brought back from his Honeymoon, growing it in a potato on his voyage home in 1907, and it was grown for many years in England and has now been reintroduced successfully in Japan.

          The second story that I shall tell you is also about British adventurism, this time in the realm of Egyptology and horticulture together. In this story, which many say is more apocryphal than the one about cherry blossoms, Howard Carter finding the lost tomb of King Tut also found a specific variety of purple peas that had been preserved, buried in the arid desert for centuries. Remarkably, when reintroduced to soil, they sprang up and blossomed and are now grown quite freely. Far from giving us a curse, we received a blessing in that tomb, an extinct variety of peas now brought back to life!

          These two stories are helpful in showing us the relevance of our Scripture passage from Jeremiah and our collect today. This shoot of Jesse, this “righteous branch” is what we awaited for centuries and await again in the Messiah and King of kings’ second return. “The Lord liveth” – let us pause there and take those words in – “The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed” – the what? – “the seed of the house of Israel out of the north-country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.” They speak to the way in which our God can take a seed and make it last a long time and then bear fruit from one place to another, even after the interim of many decades or centuries. These stories also – with a stretch – elucidate our Collect today. “Stir up” – we must stir up the soil, let the air in, let the nutrients breathe, “Stir up, we beseech thee, the wills of thy faithful people”. For what purpose? To bring forth the fruit of good works. Fruit comes from seed of course.

          All of this has to happen in God’s time not our own. It is the difference in the Greek between Kairos and Cronos. Cronus is time as it marches on, unstoppable and unyielding. It is related to words like chronological and chronic. Kairos is in the “fulness of time,” in effect in God’s time. Why? Because God’s ways are not our ways. It increases his glory 1) because it increases our patience and makes us holy and 2) because we bless him for the miraculous when we see these fabulous stories unfold in our age or hear about them in another age. It is a “Kairotic Moment,” or as we call it “a God thing.”

          Despite everything happening in God’s time, we are still called to holiness now, even if the fruit of it is still a long way off. St. Aelfric the Anglo-Saxon preacher said this:

“Every good tree worketh good fruits, and an evil tree worketh evil fruits.” By these words the Lord meant not those trees which grow in an orchard . . . but . . . rational men, who have understanding, and work by their own will, either good or evil. Good is the tree that brings forth good fruit, evil is that which stands barren, worse is that which bears evil fruit; and the man is praiseworthy who busies himself with good works, and sets example to others; he is not praiseworthy who lives useless; he is pernicious and doubly dead, as the apostle said, who is barren in goodness, and in evil ever growing and fruit-bearing.”[1]

We cannot stand by and say that, since the days are evil, we should not be expected to work good. It is not enough to say that, since the days are evil, we should hold off from doing anything at all since it’s a waste of time or not the right time to expend our energies or because nothing will bear fruit in an evil time. Avoiding good works is not stirring up the gift that is in you, from the seed of the Holy One, as seed that was planted by Baptism. It’s all God’s time not our time.  

          It also does not mean, beloved, that we stand alone. We might say, how am I to bear good fruits in such an evil time? We look for resources. We don’t stand alone, and we are not expected to work alone. There might be a resource somewhere to the north, or south, or east or west, hidden on an island, or maybe back in some book somewhere. Christ can bring that resource to us if we pray for help. We have more than two thousand years of resources, seeds and tools, to assist us in good works. We stand with all our fellow Christians who have received the good seed of Christ. We might find a blooming variety of the Wisdom of God, some nugget, hidden somewhere. We might find a blossom, some jewel, that can help us to make things a little better in this church or in someone’s life. We really just have to ask ourselves “do we want it?” God will help us if we really do want it. St. John of Kronstadt says this, “God’s Wisdom, Mercy, and Omnipotence may be observed above all in the fact that the Lord places each of us in such a position, that if we wish we can bring to God the fruits of good works, and save ourselves and others. . . .”[2] The same Father John also said this, remember it well: “I am morally nothing without the Lord. I have really not one true thought or good feeling, and can do no good works . . . . The Lord is the accomplishment of everything good that I think, feel, and do. O, how boundlessly wide is the Lord’s grace acting in me!”[3] Let us pray for help in doing good works; Let us pray.

Let the power of the Father shepherd [us], the wisdom of the Son enlighten [us], the operation of the Spirit quicken [us], Preserve [our] souls, stablish [our bodies], upraise [our senses], direct [our conversations], compose [our manners], [and] bless [our] actions. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.[4]

Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us; unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen

[1] Aelfric’s Sermons, edited and translated by Benjamin Thorpe, The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

[2] John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, 223.

[3] Ibid, 284.

[4] Adapted from Bishop Andrewes’ Preces Privatae (London: Methuen, 1949), 103.

Trinity 23, 2020 – Dueling Mouths, Dueling Vows

“Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” James 3:10

St. Paul this Sunday points us to two very basic uses of our mouths, either a cursing or a blessing. What are these two uses? Very basic. One is to eat and the other is to speak. One might say we breathe through our mouths, sometimes, that’s true. But eating and speaking makes sense. The first one is pointed to when St. Paul says, “be ye followers of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” There’s a great old Mel Brooks joke where, in Robin Hood Men in Tights, the Sheriff of Rottingham says to some folks as he trots off in the direction of the castle, “Walk this way.” He brushes his hair back vainly and arrogantly and starts to strut in an exaggerated manner towards the castle. All the folks following him, taking him literally, brush their hair back similarly and follow him in an overexaggerated manner. This isn’t, of course, what St. Paul is speaking about. He is talking about right teaching and right doing. He teaches certain things and we are to follow those things and teach the same. He does certain things and we are to follow in doing those same things. Part of it has to do with “walking” as in the things we do with our body, but also, implicitly with what we confess with our lips and believe in our hearts – it has partly to do with the use of our mouths.

          St. Paul points to another matter, mentioning some particular evil known as the god of the belly. Who is this god of the belly? Is it Zeus or Baal or Mammon? No, it is all gods and none. It is the spirit of idolatry or lusting after or minding “earthly things.” Many of these things are spoken of with the lips, obsessively, some of them are eaten. Others we simply hold our breaths with excitement when we think of them. But idolatry usually involves three things, the eyes, the mind, and the mouth. So St. John says in his first Epistle General, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof . . .” (2:16-17). The lust of the flesh often involves the mouth, the lust of the eyes, the eyes, and the pride of life, the mind. Let us pray a moment, asking God to deliver us from such evils.

O my Lord Jesus! Enlighten us today, that we may direct the path of our Christian life towards the heavenly Jerusalem, where we shall be forever; having all our delights and desires in thee as thou hast in us; grant us to have a longing for thee, and to keep thee, the bread of life, as the companion of our path. Preserve us, O thou unchangeable and everlasting God! From the fickleness of the children of this world, that we may not become equal to them in hypocrisy, but remain faithful to our calling in godliness, and decrease in vice and increase in virtue, so that we may faithfully serve thee, our Lord, despise earthly things, be exalted in thee, feel thy grace and protection, and forever be grateful unto thee, for Christ’s sake. Amen.[1]

There is another way in which St. Pa    ul points to the mouth in his Epistle to us today: That is the notion of “our citizenship is in heaven.” Citizenship can also be understood, and is understood in other translations, as “conversation.” If you think about that, it makes sense, because what is a major feature of society but that we are in conversation with one another, being fellow citizens of this great Republic together. A party spirit is exactly that, a place where people get together and talk. Some are invited and others are not and certainly, especially at this time during the continued polarization in America, as alternate social media, like Parler and MeWe, syphons off many from Facebook and Twitter, we see how we have a “party” so to speak, when we converse with one another, with those who agree with us, and not so much with those who disagree with us.

          This party spirit becomes apparent to us in immediately upon hearing the Gospel appointed for us today. “Then went the Pharisees” (a party) “and took counsel” (they talked) how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians” (another party) . . . So right there we know that these partisans with their party spirit, and their god being their bellies, sought to entangle Jesus. Now certainly we wonder, how is their god their bellies on this occasion? Let’s back up. What did we consider from 1 John? The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, right? We in fact can pin all three of these on the Pharisees pretty rapidly if we think about why they envied Jesus. First, the lust of the flesh: they sought their own disciples who would follow their own example, their own vain traditions, their rabbinic glosses and interpretations of the Law of Moses, in short, disciples of their own opinions. Against such a party spirit, Jesus said not to call others teacher, not to call others rabbi (Matt. 23:8, consult further James 3:1). This robbed the Pharisees of what they lusted after, disciples. Then the lust of the eyes: Elsewhere it says “And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him” (Luke 19:47) – they looked with their eyes for ways to entangle Him and shed the Innocent blood. All of this why, because of their “Pride of Life,” their station in life, their learning, their ambition.

          The final way that we can see the mouth at work here is in Jesus’ own confession of the Truth of the matter. “Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?” We can imagine the authority, the divine authority, that must have resonated and reverberated in that Blessed and Uncorrupted and Incorruptible Mouth, “Shew me the tribute money.” And what does He tell them, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” What was rendered to Caesar? That which was vowed with the lips, due honor and, what we used to call, homage and fealty – basically what we say when we say the Pledge of Allegiance. What is God’s? Everything. Not everything else, just everything. Yet there is room in what we owe to God, what we have vowed to Him with our lips, for all of the proper relationships between family and friends, within community and nation. Sometimes we feel as if there’s a choice, that we have to make a choice between God and Country, but we don’t. God is big enough to show us the way. Sir Cecil Spring-Rice wrote a great hymn about this and you’ll see it often sung at Westminster Abbey on State Occasions – “I vow to Thee.”

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

God spoke by Moses and said, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut. 30:19). Sometimes we think, can I really do this? Can I choose a path between God and Country that will leave me with integrity? Look how big a curse might fall on me if I fail! But God also said by his prophet Micah, “He hath shown thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic. 6:8) May God show you the way, this day and evermore. Amen.  


[1] Adapted from Habermann’s Prayers, 109-10.

Trinity 22, 2020 – Equipping the Saints, Ephesians 4:12

“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:12

          Today is Trinity 22, but also within the Octave of All Saints. Because of this let’s consider the text above. What is it to be perfected as a saint, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ? This verse can be compared with value to the one we just heard from Philippians, Paul remembering the Philippian saints in prayer, doing so with joy, remembering the fellowship he had with them, “being confident in this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” What is it that God shall perform? The perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and the edifying of the whole body of Christ. That’s certainly part of it.

Usually the number one thing that folks want to know about when a new rector comes to town is, what’s he going to do to grow the parish? Even in 1896 the new Rector of Trinity, New Haven, Connecticut preached, “. . . there are two ways of receiving a new rector on the part of a parish. One method is for the people simply to look on and see what happens, somewhat as people look at a menagerie. If the Rector pleases, the spectators are interested; if he does odd things, the spectators are amused or displeased, according to their character; if the Rector is positively displeasing, the spectators drop away. The show is a failure. That is one way of receiving a new Rector. The other way is for Rector and people to recognize that neither he nor they can act apart, and that none of his people can be mere spectators even if they wish to be, because Christ, whose Name they all bear, holds them responsible for the results.” I hear the same sentiment often from colleagues today. I don’t agree and I don’t quite disagree. I’d like to clarify. 

The scheme today is often to “partner” with the congregation in such a way so that practically everybody is equipped to do ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Many modern biblical Anglicans have been influenced by the likes of Anglican evangelical John Stott who said, “There is immense value in the team concept . . . because then we can capitalize one another’s strengths and supplement one another’s weaknesses.” (So far so good!) But then he continues, “Moreover, gifted lay people should be encouraged to join the team, and exercise their ministry in a voluntary capacity according to their gifts. One of these is preaching, and the Church needs many more lay preachers” (Between Two Worlds 121). There, unfortunately, Stott, in my estimation, has missed the mark.

Some of this confusion has to do with the emphasis placed in modern translations. Note that the English Standard Version (one of the better ones) reads, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” while the King James says, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The subtlety of difference is clear enough. The modern translations presume that practically everybody will be doing some sort of ministry more or less in line with a Protestant concept of the “Priesthood of all believers.” Ephesians 4: 12 should rather be carefully read in light of the Office of Instruction in the Book of Common Prayer, “My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom.” In fact, Stott comes a bit closer the mark, in my estimation, when he says “all church members have a responsibility to let Christ’s Word dwell richly within them so that they may ‘teach and admonish one another in all wisdom’ (Col. 3:16)” (119).

Of course, facilitating of “volunteers” is something of the task of a priest; of course, there are valuable gifts and insights that the congregation has as baptized and confirmed individuals, complete with education and knowledge and skills of the world. That the direction of the congregation is not somehow influenced by this “team” of lay people is to miss the uniqueness of a particular church and how it can build a symbiotic energy with and positive outreach in the local community. The discussion sort of hinges, however, on what is meant by “Ministry”. What is “ministry” and what is “The Ministry” and how much have we garbled up the two in our reading of Ephesians 4? Ministry, generically speaking, is to “work and pray and give” (not just monetarily!) “for the spread of his kingdom.” The Ministry is a duly ordained, apostolic and divine mandate, which falls on those men properly educated and trained for that particular duty, tried, tested, called and sent to particular congregations in order to feed them and lead them or as Stott says, a “call and commissioning of specialists . . .” (119).

The first task of such a spiritual leader isn’t to lead the congregation to church growth, not because church growth is not important, but because the church isn’t a business that either grows or dies, that either rises or falls in stock price. The Church is the Body of Christ against which the Gates of Hell shall not prevail! We need to have faith and believe that fact (for Jesus said it!), or else our perspective as to where and how the Church should grow will also be garbled. The first leadership skill that a spiritual leader should have is to lead the flock into green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23), because he is a shepherd after all, not a business consultant. That being said, sheep, when fed, tend to grow. That’s just nature taking course. They tend to become larger as a flock. Sometimes I think the best thing we can show people to understand “Church Growth” and the role of a priest is the wonderful BBC television series All Creatures Great and Small. Veterinary medicine is one of the best analogies out there for pastoral care as God sees it.

We, as Americans, often want to get involved and do our “bit”. Many Americans pastors have learned over the years that helping the laity to get involved is to do them great good spiritually. They’ve just settled into the role of facilitating opportunities for laity to “serve”. That attitude has developed a sort of pastor-as-volunteer-coordinator tradition over the last century. That’s, of course, a good thing, but not the best thing. Not everybody is from the “greatest generation,” eager to “do their bit.” And yet, those who need to be served (instead of to serve), they too, must be fed and led to Jesus.

The priest, as visitor-in-the-place-of-Christ, is an older model, and still holds value for many. In my first parish, I was doing door-to-door evangelism and was getting a few friendly remarks but mostly cold shoulders. I was wearing a traditional collar and long frock coat. I am not sure what some thought as I trapesed thru their neighborhood as if it was Halloween. That was until I got up to a door that will ever live in my memory. A man in his mid-sixties opened it and, seeing the collar, said without hesitation, “come in.” I came into the living room to find himself, his wife, daughter and son-in-law. He beckoned me to sit down. In conversation with the daughter and son-in-law who spoke English well, I gathered that this daughter and her parents were Romanian Orthodox and had been living in the town for many years. This was the first time a priest had been in their home. Their parish was in New Jersey many miles away. The son-in-law was an American Protestant with no understanding of the Orthodox church he had married into. We talked for some time. Eventually, I asked them to bring out their icons. We prayed together. As I looked over at the couch, the father of the family, hardly able to speak English, was weeping. A priest was in his home! Here there was no conversation about all the programs in our church, all the ways that they could “get involved” if they joined our church; there was just priest and people, and Jesus too was there.

I moved on to another congregation just a few months later. The obvious question that arises in our minds might be, “did they join the church?” Did it “work”? But to ask that question is to look upon the congregation as a business, and people as means to an end, not as ends in themselves; not as the Body of Christ filled with souls needing care, both inside the church building and outside it. The Body of Christ was strengthened that day; souls were encouraged in their Faith that Jesus was real and cared for them, sending them a priest when and where he was needed. That congregation where I ministered thirteen years ago is still there too, alive and kicking, with a new young priest, who has a nice young family. They have moved into the vicarage at the end of the block, and the congregation is still reaching out with the presence of Jesus into the town around them. Let us pray.

O Lord, we beseech Thee to pour Thy heavenly blessing on all those who are engaged in doing and furthering good works in Thy holy Church; prosper their undertakings, grant them perseverance therein, and stimulate others by their example to like zeal in Thy service. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Priest’s Prayer Book)

All Saints, 2020 – “Icons of our Nation”

My son received this from his school for Halloween,

I’m like a Christian pumpkin

With a smile upon my face;

Planted by the Lord above

And growing in His grace.


He scooped out all the mush

And washed away the dirt.

He took away

The seeds of doubt

And other things that hurt.


He carved my eyes and mouth

And placed his light in me.

I’m like the Christian pumpkin

Shining for the world to see.

This nicely describes a Christian. It follows well the Anglican emphasis on saints as “choice vessels of . . . grace, and the lights of the world in their several generations,” as the first Book of Common Prayer prays. Mattathias Maccabee, not a Scottish guy but an Old Testament one, referred to this notion on his deathbed in his final charge to the living, “Now therefore, my sons, be ye zealous for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of your fathers. Call to remembrance what acts our fathers did in their time; so shall ye receive great honour and an everlasting name.”[1] Mattathias goes on to recollect and to commemorate the examples of Abraham, Joseph, Phineas, Joshua, Caleb, David, Elijah, the three boys in the fiery furnace and Daniel. In the Book of Hebrews, in a passage reminiscent of what is in the First Book of Maccabees, the writer says, “the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued Kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”[2]

          These passages of Scripture point to the Anglican emphasis on example. We pray on page 336, “most humbly beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow the example of their steadfastness in thy faith, and obedience to thy holy commandments, that at the day of the general Resurrection, we, with all those who are of the mystical body of thy Son, may be set at his right hand, and hear that his most joyful voice: Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you . . .” So we pray and so we believe.

          This is not to reject the imperfections of the Saints. That is one beautiful thing about Scripture, that it does not whitewash the Saints. More clearly stating this, we pray in our prayer book “give us grace so to follow their good examples” – not their bad ones. It is not as though we can’t say anything bad about them because the Pope canonized some of them or simply because they are in the Bible. The Bible clearly shows us that they were imperfect. The point is that they are “choice vessels” through whom God showed His light, like stained glass windows, pointing us to them, because they point us to Christ.

          Stained Glass windows? Isn’t that a denial of the second commandment, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image”? That question gets me to my next point. There was a time, in the 8th century, when Islam threatened the East and West and Paganism was on the rise in the borderlands, when it seemed that Icons, Images of the Saints, had gotten a bit out of hand. At the Council of Hieria, in 754, the Byzantine Emperor outlawed Icons. This was overturned 33 years later at what is now considered the Seventh Ecumenical Council. The important statement coming forth from thence is as follows, “Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype.” What is it that is commemorated and loved in their prototype? It is the Grace of God exhibited in the lives of these good examples, and in their good examples only, not in their bad ones.

          We today are faced with a form of iconoclasm. Once again, the Church is called to careful critique of culture. Shall we, like the Iconoclasts of Old, like the Puritans under Cromwell, tear down the icons of our nation, or shall we build up our nation with the good examples of our forefathers? Failing to commemorate the Saints, as Mattathias told his sons to do in the First Book of Maccabees, as the Book of Hebrews does, is to violate another commandment – “Honour thy father and thy mother, That thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” No man but Jesus Christ is perfect, and no parent is perfect, but a parent is to be honoured and a forebear is to be honoured; and a saint is for this reason to be venerated. Icons, Stained Glass, Statues are not raising up images to ourselves for our own lusts and appetites, and to worship ourselves, but in conformity with the commandment to “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

Some of you know that I have been watching the BBC series, The Last Kingdom, and Alfred the Great is a major character in it. And you might recall that I shared this with you some weeks ago: “Alfred was perhaps more admired than venerated. But as we look back over more than a thousand years to his death and receive the precious gifts which God gave us through him, we have come to need a day on which to honour him and praise God for him, and pray for a continuance of his gifts among us.”[3] What gifts, beloved? Do our young people today know that we trace to Alfred the Great and those like him notions of equality under the law, notions of one being innocent until proven guilty, notions of being tried by 12 peers, rather than by arbitrary or elevated persons who have no notion what our daily lives are like? Do they know that not only were these notions bequeathed to us in these United States, but throughout the British Empire? No. They probably only know that some forefathers were slaveowners, denying to others the rights they believed they were naturally endowed with due to the colour of their white skins. No. They probably only associate the British Empire with the evils so-called of Imperialism.  

          Certainly, at some point in our life, we learn about the imperfections of our parents, but I believe all are agreed that it should be later rather than earlier. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, seeing the rising darkness in Nazi Germany, wrote an essay, asking “What it is to tell the truth.” In it he gives the example of a schoolteacher, where the school is an appendage of the State, making a child stand up in class and asking that child, “Is your father a drunk”? He goes on to identify some ethical considerations out of that example, but I ask you, are you not outraged by such a question? Is not such a question the sign of an abusive and totalitarian, indeed, a tyrannical teacher? And if such a teacher does so with the authority of the state, then that state too is abusive and tyrannical. Yet when we teach our children to know only the evil of our forefathers in our education system, we encourage them to violate a Commandment, a Commandment that robs them of the promise to stay “long in the land which the Lord [their] God gives [to them]” just as surely as does a teacher who asks a child to dishonor a father, by admitting, before the whole class that, in fact, “Daddy is a drunk.”

          Now surely, adulthood and true maturity cannot be reached until we make peace with the fact that our parents are not perfect and forgive them for this; and thank God that they were, by God’s grace, not worse than they in fact were. And surely, no Nation has done anything but devolve from maturity and adulthood, surely, no Nation can long endure, which has made war on its forebears for their imperfections, rather than loving them for the goodness which made them great. Surely, nothing but the most radical form of pride can claim that we, in our generation, have reached a level of perfection so eminent that it can, with impunity, rashly tear down the images of its history. Surely, nothing but worship of ourselves, the true spirit of Idolatry, can reign in such hearts. During the English Civil War, a commentator wrote on the differences between Cavaliers and Roundheads, that the sins of the Cavalier were those of men, dice, drink and women, while the sins of the army of Cromwell, who smashed statues and broke stained glass windows, were the sins of demons, spiritual pride and sedition.

          If we as a nation will long endure, we must, beloved, teach to venerate goodness in our ancestors before we teach about their imperfections. We must teach our youth to venerate parents, rather than allowing the State to drive a wedge between children and parents. We must teach our youth to venerate their past, rather than drive a wedge between their past and their future. Only once that veneration has formed character, built by the good examples of our past, can we show them that even their heroes have flaws, and the virtuous have vices. In so doing, we have not lied to them. We have helped them to understand, in the right way and at the right time, that the cause all goodness in imperfect human beings is God’s Grace, and the prototype of every good man is Jesus Christ Himself. Let us pray.   

O God of the Covenant, who dost choose thine elect out of every nation, and dost shew forth thy glory in their lives: Grant, we pray thee, that following the example of thy servants, we may be fruitful in good works to the praise of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[4]

[1] 1 Macc. 2: 50-51.

[2] Heb. 11: 32-34.

[3] Black Letter Saints Days, 37.

[4] Adapted from the Scottish Prayer Book, 1929


Christ the King, 2020 – “A Tale of Two Princes”

There is the apocryphal story of King Cnut and the Tide. His flattering courtiers tell him that he can command the waves and the tide. King Cnut  no doubt remembering the Holy Scriptures and the Sovereign Power of God, shows his nobility that he isn’t everything they’ve made him out to be and gets his feet wet as a result. He simply sits where the tide is coming in and shows them that he doesn’t have the power to stop the wind and the waves. That’s God’s power alone and this we know from the Bible. The Book of Job relates God saying concerning the waves, the sea and the tide, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” It is Christ Who calms the wind and the waves when they rise up in storm and tempest. Did you know that King Cnut, who was the Danish King of England and Scandinavia, put together, with the help of St. Wulfstan, the most comprehensive set of laws for the Anglo-Saxons and for the Danes alike? It acknowledges God as the head of the nation. Hear this: “If any be so bold, clerk or lay, Dane or English, to go against God’s law and against my royal authority, or against secular law, and be unwilling to make amends, and to alter according to my bishops’ teaching, then I pray . . . my earl, and also command him, that he bend that unrighteous one to right if he can.” Acknowledging Christ as King is a significant part of the role of any Christian monarch or ruler. Today, in our churches, Christ the King is celebrated. For others, in other liturgical churches, Reformation Sunday is celebrated, being the week just around the time when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, beginning the Reformation. Christ the King was designed by the Roman church in 1925 to oppose growing nationalism and secularism and it is, indeed, a very fine feast – but the two are not opposed to each other.

          Christ is the King of the nations. The Reformation of the Church was led by theologians and university professors, but also very much by godly (though imperfect) Kings and Princes. We spend a lot of time studying perhaps Martin Luther or Henry VIII, but seldom look at the whole scene as it was playing out in the 15th and early 16th centuries. It was a Prince, the Elector of Saxony, who defended Martin Luther. Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy is in 1534 and his Ten Articles of doctrine are issued in 1536. In the same year Christian III of Denmark, Norway, and Iceland marched into Copenhagen and in six days established the Reformation. In 1536, the Synod of Upsala, Sweden, abolished Roman Canon Law. This was fueled when the King of Sweden appointed an Archbishop without papal confirmation in 1530.

But being stuck between the Pope and the threat of Islam was much of the fuel for the Reformation as well. Reaching back into the 15th century, two princeps, princes, of Romania, Vlad Tepes and Stephen the Great, were cousins and were both patriots loyal to their homeland, defending their country against political pressures and invasions. The Romanian people are loyal to the Eastern Orthodox Faith. Many German Saxon mercenaries settled there, loyal to Roman Catholicism. There is, in fact, later a Transylvanian Lutheran Church because of all the Saxons in that area. The Orthodox Church in the 15th century needed help from the West against the Muslims and so had bandaged up their relationship with the Pope of Rome, at least the politicians had and the politicking bishops had. But the local people and the monks, they were suspicious of this peace between Rome and Constantinople. They knew that it was the concoction of politicians, to try to save their precious Eastern Christendom from the Turks, but the cockeyed concoction of politicians nonetheless. So for these two princes, Vlad and Stephen, the ecclesiastical-political scene was complex indeed.

          Vlad, like his father, was Roman Catholic and was inducted into the Order of the Dragon, a semi-secret fraternal society. In fact, Dracula means “little Dragon” because his father was “Dracul,” the big dragon. It was a secret society of nobles dedicated to seeing that the Bishop of Rome’s interests were promoted within the European courts. Vlad later became Romanian Orthodox when he was called to rule Wallachia. He then switched back to Roman Catholicism, because it was advantageous to his protector and captor, the king of Hungary, into whose family Vlad eventually married.

          Again, these two had a lot in common. Both had illegitimate children. Both killed in battle. Both impaled people. Both fought Hungary and each other. Both switched sides and allies. Both built churches and monasteries. Both fought for the Church. Interestingly enough, because of the advice of his spiritual father, St. Daniel the Hermit of Voronet, St. Stephen of Moldavia built a monastery every time he won a victory. He did this 44 times! And only lost two battles!

          Stephen remained loyal to the Orthodox Faith his whole life, but defended all of Christendom. When Pope Sixtus IV called for yet another crusade, St. Stephen was to follow the lead of the Bishop of Rome, declaring “We are ready to resume the struggle for the defense of Christendom with all the power and heart which Almighty God [has] chosen to invest in us.” And then, at the time, Stephen requested that his cousin, Vlad, who had been a political prisoner of Hungary, be allowed to return to Wallachia to lead up the crusade from there, especially against Vlad’s own brother, Radu the Handsome, who was moving to rule Wallachia as the Sultan’s puppet ruler. Incidentally, invasions of the Ottoman Empire into Europe and raids on her coasts played heavily into politics during the Reformation as well.

          At the end of his life, Vlad, who had often changed his loyalty in favor of the Roman Church, was to be denounced as a sick and tyrannical prince by that very Church, despite his heroic and almost miraculous defeat of the Sultan. While, on the other hand, St. Stephen, remaining loyal to the Orthodox Faith his whole life, was to be named by the Pope, an “Athlete of Christ” and “Defender of the Faith.” The only one, besides an Albanian freedom fighter, to be so named in the fifteenth century – irony indeed.  (Henry VIII too was named Defender of the Faith in 1521 by a Bishop of Rome, and he had been involved in schemes with the Pope in 1518 for another Crusade against the Ottomans.)

          Unfortunately, shortly after his bittersweet return to power, like some sick, tragic, celebrity death, Vlad the Impaler, a national hero, was found by some monks decapitated in a swamp near the island monastery where he was probably buried. Even Vlad’s burial site is a matter for speculation, to the glee of Vampire enthusiasts. The differences continue: Vlad the Impaler only ruled six years between exiles. He was a political prisoner of the Sultan as a child. He watched his younger brother, Radu the Handsome, receive molestation and abuse. He became estranged from this brother, who eventually became a competitor for the princedom of Wallachia.

          Stephen, on the other hand, was one of the longest ruling in Romanian history, and that was no easy task. Romanian princes ruled, in many respects, like Scandinavian ones, at the pleasure of the landed gentry, the local nobles, known as boyars. This is why Vlad often failed in ruling, because he lost the confidence or was too harsh with his boyars. Stephen too, was occasionally harsh with his nobles, but remained in power, popularly. Both were freedom fighters of a holy land against an unholy invader. Like so many Kings and princes who had a love-hate relationship with the Church and with the Bishop of Rome, they show us what it is to proclaim Christ as King over the Nations and over Christendom.

          Furthermore, it is important to understand that Christ will have His way. Whether with godly rulers or ungodly ones, Christ will be King and will establish His Church, call in His harvest, and set down the ungodly in His good time. He will do so through reformations and revivals, through tumults and wars, with the Bad princes, like Vlad the Impaler, and Good ones, like St. Stephen of Moldavia or King Cnut. Let us pray.

O God, by whose providence thine only-begotten Son was made an High Priest forever, [and King of the Nations,] that in him thy majesty might be glorified, and all men might find salvation: mercifully grant that so many as he hath called to be ministers and stewards of his mysteries [and magistrates and rulers of his justice], may ever be found faithful in their vocation and ministry, [through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord]. Amen.[1]

[1] Collect of the Eternal High Priest (adapted), Anglican Service Book, 150.

St. Luke’s, 2020 

We celebrate St. Luke today who is described by St. Jerome as “a physician of Antioch, who, as appeareth from his writings, was skilled in the Greek tongue. He was a follower of the Apostle Paul, and his fellow traveler in all his wanderings.” Of course, he wrote the Gospel named after him and the Acts of the Apostles. Jerome says, “He was never married. He lived eighty-four years. He is buried at Constantinople, whither his bones are supposed to have been brought from Achaia . . . together with the relicks of St. Andrew.” Let us pray.

ALMIGHTY God, who calledst Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to an Evangelist, and Physician of the soul: May it please thee that, by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed. Through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The priest of God, in various liturgies and traditions of the Church Catholic, begins the holy ministry of Word and Sacrament with prayer, prayer for protection, as he prepares to ascend to the Altar of God. “Lord, put the helmet of salvation upon my head” says the Armenian Orthodox priest “to fight against the powers of the enemy, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to whom is befitting glory, dominion and honor, now and always and unto the ages of ages.” Very similar it is to the prayer of the priest in our tradition. “Put on my feet, O Lord God” says the Syrian Orthodox priest “the footwear of the preparation of the Gospel of peace that I may tread upon the snakes, the scorpions and all the power of the enemy forever.” Notice in today’s Gospel how our Lord says, “Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.” Notice in today’s Epistle how St. Paul is harried by wolves and how he makes reference to such a wolf: “Alexander the copper-smith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.” Pastors today can relate.

What then of the 70 disciples when they were sent out two by two? They were told “Go your ways . . . Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes.” So why do the priests wear anything at all? You see, the point of both is the same, trust in God. The disciples trusted in God through prayer without purse or scrip or shoes. The priest trusts in God through prayer, praying as the vestments are put on in order to say mass. St. Paul trusted in God, yet he did not need to discard all material things in order to do so. He says to Timothy, “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.”

Why are the disciples sent out two by two? There are many reasons. Bishop Jeremy Taylor, the great 17th century Anglican writer of Holy Living and Holy Dying, outlines to his clergy in Ireland, in the counties of Down and Connor, how they should conduct themselves. Concerning visitation of parishioners he says, “In order to these and many other good purposes, every Minister ought frequently to converse with his Parishioners; to go to their houses, but always publickly, with witness, and with prudence, lest what is charitably intended be scandalously reported: and in all your conversation be sure to give good example, and upon all occasions to give good counsel.” That’s the most obvious reason why. Note our text from Timothy. Notice how the Ministry still entails two-by-two in a sense: “Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.” They are not doing ministry in a vacuum. So it is even today. Sometimes two pastors go together. Sometimes pastor and his wife. Sometimes priest and deacon, bishop and deacon. When going to England to evangelize, St. Augustine of Canterbury had a fellow named Laurence with him as his companion, who later succeeded him as Bishop in Canterbury. Later on a fellow went to York to evangelize, later known as St. Paulinus of York and there he had James the Deacon to help him. Some of our traditional Anglican bishops today feel that every parish should have a priest and a deaconess, not a female deacon who serves on the altar, but a holy and discreet, godly widow, that the ministry be done with no scandal. I mention that in reference to our lessons today, not in order to push for such in this parish. And it doesn’t mean that the priest can’t go alone, either. But the wisdom of two going is obvious.

Why else might they be sent out two by two? What did Christ say? If you continue to read beyond our Gospel appointed for today you will note that in these villages the ministry team are to “heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” St. Luke was a doctor, a physician. And physicians heal through medicine and they usually have to get their hands on the people who are sick. Tele-visits during times of great sickness only does so much, I’m sure. But physicians also heal through consultation with one another. King Solomon says, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” Here as well the disciples begin to take the role not only of elders in Israel (of which there were originally 70 under Moses) who judged and excommunicated people from society for uncleanness and sin, but of priests. Why? Notice in our Gospel lesson a few weeks ago, Jesus sent the ten lepers “unto the priests”. Why “unto the priests” instead of just to a single priest? First, because priests declare that healing has taken place and that the person may be reincorporated into society, and, two, because by “two or three witnesses ever word may be established” (Matt. 18:16). Two or three witnesses today has the force of law as well.

How did they heal? Presumably by laying on of hands in prayer. How were the sick healed? By Faith and Repentance. The same is necessary for healing through the Ministry of the Word and of the Sacraments in today’s dispensation of God’s grace. Bishop Taylor in a catechism that he wrote for young people asks the question, “What is the Covenant which Jesus Christ our Mediator hath made between God and us? Answer: That God will write his Laws in our hearts, and will pardon us, and defend us, and raise us up again at the last day, and give us an inheritance in his Kingdome.” He asks the question, “To what Conditions hath he bound us on our part? Ans. Faith, and Repentance.” He then makes a distinction between a Covenant of Faith and a Covenant of Repentance. “What is the Covenant of Faith?” He outlines a few things, basically the tenets of the Apostles’ Creed. “What is the Covenant of Repentance?” “We promise to leave all our sins, and with a hearty and sincere endevour to give up our will and affections to Christ, and do what he hath commanded (according to our power and weakness.)” That is a pretty tall order. A covenant is a contract, so to speak. And in this contract, Bishop Taylor is saying that there is grace and mercy even if we can’t hold up our end of this contract. “[What] if we fail” he asks “[in] this Promise through infirmity, and commit sins?” Ans. “Still we are within the Covenant of Repentance,” (We’re not thrown out, such is God’s forbearance!) “that is, [we still have] the promise of pardon, and possibility of returning from dead works . . .”  This is good news! God knows that we can’t keep on keeping on alone, that we need help. He ordains certain helpers, certain ministries, both of Word and Sacrament, starting with such as Paul and Luke and Timothy. Bishop Taylor explains: “Jesus Christ hath appointed Ministers and [Ambassadors] of his own to preach his Word to us, to pray for us, to exhort and to reprove, to comfort and instruct, to restore and reconcile us, if we be overtaken in a fault, to visit the sick, to separate the vile from the precious, to administer the Sacraments, and to watch for the good of our souls.” The even better news is that where these men come, Jesus Christ is sure to follow. For it is said, He “sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.” He sent them to you, despite wolves, because He loves you. Let us pray.

ALMIGHTY Lord, and everlasting God, vouchsafe, we beseech thee, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the ways of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments; that, through thy most mighty protection, both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Trinity 18, 2020 “Finding Winterberries” – Fr. Peter Geromel

“For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time: . . . a time to plant and a time to uproot.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Recently, we have gotten a jolt due to the weather. We have been reminded that winter is coming. “Winter is Coming” as a saying has been quite popularized lately by the TV series Game of Thrones, in which the main civilization, The Seven Kingdoms of the continent of Westeros, await the coming ice age. They know it will come. They do not know when. Hence the folk of the northern area have a saying, “Winter is Coming.” They are always preparing for it. Often the work after Harvest and before Winter has to do with seeds: Pumpkin seeds to be roasted, chestnuts to be collected, berries (with or without seeds) to make preserves, wheat that has been harvested must be ground up and made into grain: Out of this bread is prepared. We stock up on these seeds and other things because “Winter is Coming” and Our Lord had a few things to say about this. Our Lord said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” It is small, but it grows into a huge tree. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour till it was all leavened.” (Matt. 13: 31-33) ‘Till it was all leavened – He did not say, until she wanted it to be leavened. He did not say until part of it was leavened. He said until all of it was leavened. He did not expect for her to say, I have a TV show I want to watch at seven, so the bread needs to rise now on my timetable rather than the bread’s.

Baking bread is an all-day process, or at least it used to be until the advent of the bread maker. Jams and Jellies and Preserves take up a lot of time preparing for winter. But we are going a bit off topic – not a lot off topic, but a bit off topic. What is the topic? St. Paul said in First Corinthians, “I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it; but God made it grow.” He makes all of it grow in His time, just as He makes all the lump to leaven in His own good time. St Paul goes on to say, “It is not the gardeners with their planting and watering who count, but God who makes it grow.” He continues, “Whether they plant or water, they work as a team, though each will get his own pay for his own labour. We are fellow-workers in God’s service, and you are God’s garden.”

We are in a season of sowing seeds – spiritually, I mean, and primarily, I mean. It is a pretty peculiar or pretty unsuccessful farmer who does not know what season it is. In Spring, of course, we plant seeds. In summer, we water and let the heat of the sun do its magic. In Fall, we harvest and in winter we let the ground rest from its labour. Thus speaks the farmer. Fair enough. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus they asked for a sign from heaven. He said that they knew it would be fine weather the following day, because the sky’s red and that it in the morning, if the sky is red, there would be storms. Yet they could not figure out the signs of the times. So these Pharisees and Sadducees were pretty bad farmers – spiritually, I mean. They could interpret the Law. They could be amateur meteorologists, but they couldn’t figure out the signs of the times.

We are always in the business of planting seeds no matter the weather, no matter the future. We who are in the Church are always so acting; it is our modus operandi. St. Paul is quite clear about this in the instance of telling young people that they should not hesitate to get married and bear children despite the fact that persecution is coming. The early Christians knew it was coming. They knew that Christ had said, “Alas for women with child in those days, and for those who have children at the breast! Pray that it may not be winter or a Sabbath when you have to make your escape” (Matt. 24). He was talking about the Tribulation. They knew The tribulation might be coming so they were abstaining from marrying and having children. But Paul was essentially saying: it is always the season for having children, just as it is always the season to be planting the Word of God.

Sometimes you need an incubator, a greenhouse, if you want to plant seeds out of season. That is what the Church is. She is an incubator, a greenhouse. In early spring, while the frost was still crusting the earth, my mother would be in my room early in the morning to tend to the early spring plants. She had a greenhouse built onto one of the windows in my room. Sometimes we need such a feature. Sometimes we need to find a plant that is hardly holding up against the weather and we need to transplant it and let it grow in a greenhouse, away from the early spring frosts. This is evangelism and discipleship.

When planting season comes, we need to pierce the earth, puncture the earth and insert the seeds in the ground. How is this done? Today, it is done with a tractor. Before, it was done with a plow. Before that, it was done with a stick, especially by monks. And we can imagine the great missionaries, the bishops and apostles of the Church, St. Peter and Paul and their companions in the Roman Empire, St. Bartholomew and his companions among the Aramaic speaking peoples, St. Thomas in India, St. Mark among the Egyptians, the great missionaries to the Ethiopians, walking hundreds of miles and, like Johnny Appleseed, spreading the Word as they went. The Crozier is not only a sign of pastoring sheep, hooking them and pulling them one way, prodding them and driving them another. The Crozier is a symbol of this act of puncturing a hole deeply into the earth and inserting the Word of God there.

When summer comes and springtime is over, the seed time is not over. Remember, different things take root at different times. Different things blossom at different times. Different things are harvested at different times. We know when the big harvest arrives, at the end of summer, at the beginning of fall. Yes, but what of all those little harvests that come with so many blessings? What of the watermelon, and berries, the fruit ripening on the trees. Even dandelions have a wonder all their own and medicinal value. Yes, we all want to be in on the big harvests. We all want to see the big take at the end of summer, but these are not the only fruits of the earth to be had. What is the analogy here? The analogy is that there are different sorts of people with whom the Word of God takes root at different times. It may be a small berry here, and medium-sized apple or pear there – a little bitten by the worm, not quite pretty to look at – and this too is a harvest. This too is glorious to God.

Even in winter there are fruits to be gathered. I looked them up. Consider these: Citrus, Citron, Mandarin, sour Orange, Kumquat, Mandarin/Kumquat, Crabapple, Bearberry, Firethorn, Strawberry tree, Barberry, Beautyberry, Clusterberry, Holly, Dwarf pomegranate, Laurustinus, English hawthorn, Washington thorn, and Pomegranate – No wonder the Pomegranate was a sign of eternal life to the ancients, because it harvests in winter. Beloved, if we are going to be good spiritual farmers, we must know what blooms when. We must know the type of people and when to give them the Word of God and when to Water them, how to Water them, and when to Harvest them. This is not just an endeavor to be done when the major harvesting is done, the times of revival and spiritual awakening. This must be done all year round. A different approach for different folks!

Yes, we must look for winter berries if, indeed, winter is coming. This is harder. It requires leaving our warm toasty homes, strapping on our snowshoes and our skies, bundled up carefully against frostbite. It requires searching diligently; striving against the cold and biting wind. It requires us to be more than just good stewards and good farmers. It requires us to be good hunters. Yes, we must look for those winterberries if, indeed, winter is coming. But more importantly, whatever the season is, we need to be poking and prodding around, seeking an opportunity to plant a seed. Let us pray.

O God, Who employest men to plant and water Thy vineyard, whilst Thou alone givest the increase; grant Thy grace unto Thy fellow-workers, that, going on unto perfection in holiness and good works, they may not only save themselves but those who hear them. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (The Priest’s Prayerbook #136)

Michaelmas – Balaam’s Ass, Fr. Peter Geromel

“Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face. And the angel of the Lord said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? Behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:” Numbers 22.

As we are celebrating St. Michael and All Angels today, it is alright to speak a bit about other angel stories in the Bible, including the Old Testament story of Balaam’s talking donkey. It is a story that you will find skipped over in your 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Even in 1928, liberalism had so crept into the Episcopal Church that they did not expect you, educated and sophisticated people that you no doubt are, to believe that a donkey actually spoke and as in Numbers 22: 28 said “’What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?” And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.” Balaam the prophet, you see, had been called upon as the prince Balak’s prophet to curse the people of Israel. Balaam had withstood these commands of men and said that he would only say what the Lord allowed him to speak. Balaam gave in to pressure at one point from the princes of Moab to accompany them. Then “God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him.”

On this occasion the Angel stands with a sword in his hand. When else does an angel stand with a sword in his hand? In the Book of Genesis. There God “drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” To keep the way of the tree of life. To protect us from taking something that would harm us, God put up a flaming sword and angels to keep us from that way that would bring us to harm. Similarly, Psalm 91: 11-12 says “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee in their hands, that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.” There we have the idea of “way” again. The way to the Tree of Life is stopped by angels for our protection. The way for Balaam was kept, similarly, by a sword, to keep him from doing something that would be bad for him. The angels keep us in all of our way, that we hurt not our foot against a stone.

This then points us to an important role for Angels – keeping our way, keeping us from harm. It isn’t just physical harm. Man fears the “boo boo” sometimes more than the boogey man. This is true. We often desire protection for our physical body from our guardian angel but, hey, if I can hazard my soul for a little fun or to vent a little anger or to get a little more rest today because – after all – I work pretty hard, well hopefully God is merciful. God is merciful. But He doesn’t just forgive us for making mistakes and sinning and polluting our souls, He actually keeps our way, the way of our soul, with holy Angels so that we don’t pollute our soul. He made our soul, just as much as our bodies. The soul is precious in His sight. The guardian angel, stands, even with sword in hand, to keep us from polluting our souls. This is an important thing to note in the story of Balaam’s Ass and Balaam’s Guardian Angel. This Guardian Angel assigned to Balaam was actually ready to strike off his head and slay him rather than let Balaam pollute his soul be turning from the path of integrity and give in to peer pressure and princely pressure and curse that which God had already blessed, and the way that God had already blessed, the way of Israel through the wilderness and through the land of Moab. So, for God, the “boo boo” is sometimes better, even unto death, rather than that we should fall into the hands of the boogey man, Satan, who wishes to inflict torment and punishment on us for all eternity.

And why? Why does he we wish to do this? Simply because you were born. That’s all. Satan is so jealous of your body and soul that he wants to destroy it over and over again in a fiery furnace for all eternity. A fellow once said to me, “Why am I stuck between God and the Devil and all I did was be born and I didn’t choose to be born.” Well, you’ve just answered your own question. You were born. That was enough. It isn’t necessary to blame God for placing you between Himself and the Devil. The Devil doesn’t like what God chose to do, to let you be born. The Devil doesn’t like anything God chose to do, because He chose to do it – and that was enough to tick the Devil off. Yet God is merciful. He gives to you guardian angels to keep that fiend far from you, even if it means allowing you to die sooner lest you fall into that fiend’s hands for all eternity. You will get your body back, after all, in the life of the age to come. It’s pretty easy for God to give you another body. But that soul is another matter. That soul is you. The soul is you consistently as the atoms in your body come and go. In a few years not a single atom remains in your body that was there before. You see, science shows us that God does give you a new body, several times in your lifetime, by changing the atoms out with new atoms. God gives you a sign in science that proves that He can give you a new body in the life of the age to come. But that soul is you. Tarnish that, lose that, and you are lost, because that soul is you. There’s no getting you back again once you’re eternally lost.

One of my students in Ethics was telling me about her sense of ethics – it’s a pretty common one today: Everything is permissible unless you are harming someone else. Well, that would be pretty okay, except that there is always somebody that you are harming when you sin. We all hurt ourselves when we sin. We misuse the body that God has given to us and we hurt, tarnish and pollute our souls. Once you realize that, you might start to realize all the ways that you hurt other people every time one of God’s commandments is broken. Two consenting adults doing whatever they want, for example, in the privacy of their own bedroom does not make a right, just as two wrongs don’t make a right. They might believe very strongly that they have not misused each other, that everybody in the room was consenting and freely giving of themselves to one another, but, if it is against a commandment, it definitely hurts your own soul. So even when freely giving of yourself in a consenting but illicit relationship, you are actually helping someone else hurt his or her own soul, and that is just not a very kind thing to do as it happens. It isn’t free love – because love is never free. Love is always a bondage and a sacrifice of self for another, even unto death.

Why do we celebrate the Holy Angels? Because they love us. They didn’t just get made and then choose to love us. They actually engaged in a really real conflict in heaven, fighting against apostate and wicked fellow creatures, in order to be able to help us in our spiritual journey. They freely chose a course of action, fighting with Michael and the blessed company of heaven, that would lead many of them to be linked and bonded to us through thick and thin. What do I mean? Angels have to watch every time you fall into sin. Every time you and I do something in secret that you and I would and should blush to tell someone else, they, who observe the indescribable glories of heaven, are forced (not “forced” they freely choose it) to observe and bear with us through all the mud and mire of mortal life and the sinful strife of the soul. The Holy Angels, once upon at time, chose love, real love, suffering love; they chose to do God’s will and be with us and that’s worth celebrating.  Let us pray.

We humbly beseech thee, O Lord, that the prayers of thy holy Angels may assist us thy servants who offer unto thee this sacrifice of praise: that this our offering may be acceptable in thy sight, and profitable unto us for our salvation. Through… (“Secret” for Michaelmas)

Trinity 15, 2020 – Fr. Peter Geromel

On Monday, we celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and, today, we are again brought to that theme, especially in the Epistle lesson from Galatians. The very term “Exaltation” carries with it a paradox because the Cross, as an instrument of torture, is not a means of “exaltation” but an instrument of “humiliation”. Our Collect calls to mind our frailty as men, and frail we are. Is not the answer to our plight then “Exaltation” and not “Humiliation”? This is the secular answer. The thing needed in our frailty, in our vulnerability, in our exposure to the changes and chances of this mortal life, to the possibility of racial injustice, of sexual assault, to prejudice, is not further humiliation but rather exaltation in the form of “empowerment.” If we are oppressed, the answer according to the secular world must be empowerment. If we are vulnerable, it is the same. Many are the preachers who preach not the Cross and Humiliation, but Empowerment, not the Frailty of man but the Exaltation of man. This is not to preach at all because this is not the Christian faith. It should be added that there is probably a morally neutral version of “empowerment”. You have the right to choose a doctor, and you are empowered to do so by those who remind you to get a second opinion. You have a right to choose a good college or a good job, and you are empowered to do so by the laws of the land which outlines equal opportunity. But the whole concept when brought forward as a virtue in itself, let alone when it is brought to a frenzy, means nothing more than a passionate feeling for or against something. Passion even in its moral neutrality still has a dangerous tendency to elevate the worst of human nature – selfishness.

In almost a commentary on our Collect today, Nicholas Arseniev, reflecting on Russian Piety, says, “There is a dilemma here: We are called to be soldiers of God, we are called to virility, courage and activity, to effort and spiritual combat, and yet we are feeble, powerless, and ought not even to dare to enter into the fray on our own resources. How may we resolve this dilemma?” How indeed? His answer – he says, it’s St. Paul’s answer – is prayer and not just prayer, but prayer that leads ultimately to humility. Thus “[w]e are weak, but in Christ we become strong. . . . We are called to be active, but we cannot be active by our own power. For it is He who comes to fight for us and to sustain our efforts. . . . There are the gifts of the Spirit, the grace of perseverance in combat, the virility of the soul, spiritual heroism, the process of sanctification and ascension which begins now and to which we are called now. But all these are gifts, powers which He lends to us and which He can withdraw at any moment.” What Arseniev sees as necessary is humility. He says, “this humility is not a ‘virtue’ that is added, it is the fundamental quality of the holy soul who sees himself in the presence of God, who sees his own littleness and feebleness, and God’s greatness.”[1]

What does this humility, this humility of the Cross look like? Monk Damascene says, “True Christian love is not just a feeling or a pleasant disposition of the soul. It is a self-sacrificing, ceaseless, life-long act of heroism – unto death. It is fiery yet dispassionate, not dependent on anything, not on being loved in return . . . One no longer thinks of receiving something for oneself. One can be spat upon and reviled, and yet in this suffering there is such a deep, profound peace that one finds it impossible to return to the lifeless state one was in before the suffering. One blesses life and all that is around one, and this blessing becomes universal. Such love can only come from God.”[2] How different this is from the world’s sense of “empowerment,” this desire to be lifted up high above others in a selfish justice that claims that you are the wronged party and everyone else is wrong. Holy justice instead vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, and claims that one’s personal sins are the worst sins in the world. The Eastern Orthodox prayer before Holy Communion is a confession that the one about to receive Holy Communion is the worst sinner in the world – “of whom I am chief.” This is the way of the Cross. This is to be humiliated with Him that we might be raised with Him, glorified, exalted.

How similar this Russian theology is to our own ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition. In the Dream of the Rood, one of the earliest pieces of English religious poetry we have, there is a vision of the Cross, the Rood, and in it the visionary sees a simple piece of wood that stands by the Crucified and doesn’t leave Christ before the Sacrifice is complete. The hardwood stands fast. As such, the Cross is likened to a loyal and steadfast retainer, a holy knight, that does not leave his Lord but stands by him in battle, in the spiritual and physical suffering, to the death. Here we can imagine how a retainer stands by his lord in victory or defeat, not just in Anglo-Saxon culture, but in so many great warrior societies – Japan for example. If the lord makes a mistake and leads the earthly soldiers into a battle that can’t be won, they don’t forsake him but stand fast as if they are tied to a pole and cannot retreat. In this poem, in apparent defeat, the Rood stands by the Saviour of the World and by such wins great honor and is thus exalted. Such is the Christian. Andrew Murray, the insightful Presbyterian spiritual writer and missionary said, “Our King is none other than the crucified Jesus. All that we know of Him – His divine power, His abiding presence, His wonderful love – does not teach us to know Him fully unless we are deeply conscious that our King is the crucified Jesus. . . . Christ’s cross is His highest glory. Through it He conquered every enemy and gained His place on the throne of God.”

We carry our cross and we are the crucified if we follow Christ. We follow into apparent defeat, into apparent reproach, into apparent confusion, and into real suffering for as Isaiah says, “every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood . . .” (9:5). One scholar comments on the Dream of the Rood saying, “The Rood and Christ are one in the portrayal of the Passion – they are both pierced with nails, mocked and tortured. Then, just as with Christ, the Cross is resurrected, and adorned with gold and silver. It is honoured above all trees just as Jesus is honoured above men.”[3] So, you see, the Cross is a type of the Christian. And in the Shield of the Crusader, which when interpreted is “soldier of the Cross”, we can see a symbol of our Christian life. As you leave today, take a look at the heraldry, the crest, of the Anglican Catholic Church on our sign outside. You will see the Cross, the Cross of St. George, and of our English Heritage sure. But you will see the crossed crozier and key in the blue field. Both are symbolic tools for the frailty of man. The crozier is the shepherd’s crook that guides, because we are all frail sheep likely to stray. The key is the key of Church Discipline and absolution, it opens up the kingdom of heaven when we do err and stray like lost sheep. The collect today, in fact, matches the original Epistle lesson for Trinity 15 as it stood in the Sarum Missal. In the middle ages, the earlier part of the same chapter in Galatians was read instead, the part that says, “if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one . . .” – that’s what the Keys of the Kingdom are for. Yet I want you to notice most of all the shape of the shield. It is pointed at the bottom – that’s the “knight’s shield” that we recognize from our cultural heritage. But why is it pointed at the bottom? It was originally pointed at the bottom so that it could be planted into the ground. So that the loyal retainer and shield-bearer could stand firm and stand resolute in the face of oncoming hordes, howling and shouting as if from hell itself, so that the Christian knight could hear the words of Christ as from the mouth of Moses, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the [sufferings, the tears, the reproach, the hellions, the hordes of Satan] whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more [in the life of the age to come]” (Exodus 14:13).

[1] Nicholas Arseniev, Russian Piety, 34.

[2] Orthodox Word #75.

[3] Adelhied L. J. Thieme as quoted in Wikipedia, The Dream of the Rood.

Praying practically for Faith, Hope, and Charity with the Litany – Trinity 14, 2020 by Fr. Peter Geromel

We pray today for the increase of Faith, Hope, and Charity. It is all well and good to know that we should have it and that, with it, should come other spiritual blessings – the Fruit of the Spirit. What are the “Fruit of the Spirit”? “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” But how do we pray for it? How do we receive this spiritual blessing?

Let us pray. “God of grace and God of glory, On thy people pour thy power. Crown thine ancient Church’s story; Bring her bud to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, For the facing of this hour.” Amen.

The first question we need to ask ourselves is how badly do we want it? Galatians says that we need to “crucify” these lusts of the flesh. St. Paul in writing to the Galatians lists out various things that we must crucify, many things. “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” It isn’t a comprehensive list, but it is circumspect. We can’t enter the kingdom of God with these things implanted in our hearts and rooted in our souls, so it seems pretty important to get rid of them. Again, we can ask, how do we do this? “Lo!” Says the hymn we earlier prayed, “the hosts of evil round us Scorn thy Christ, assail his ways!” The Catechism gives us the answer, “My good Child, know this; that thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.”

One excellent way to pray for Faith, Hope, and Charity can be found in the Litany starting on page 54. Before the Book of Common Prayer was forged as a mighty weapon of prayer against the spiritual adversary in 1549, the Litany was written in the original English form at least by 1544, printed and circulated prior to the whole Prayer Book project being completed. The Litany was a hammer of prayer to help the whole of England be protected while the Prayer book was being forged. In all fairness to history, it does borrow from both medieval English sources as well as from Luther’s own German Litany. Incidentally, in many Lutheran and German Reformed hymnals in English published last century, you can see that their litanies and ours are really incredibly similar, although each German-American denomination renders the original Litany by Luther a little differently. It was said of Luther that, after the Lord’s Prayer, he believed the best prayer possible was the Great Litany, as the Lutherans have tended to call the German one.

I was, for a short time, a youth minister or youth leader in a Methodist Church during seminary. The pastor I was working for was a really decent guy but when there were complaints from parents (would you believe it!) that I was praying the Litany with the youth group, the pastor said to me that he loved the Book of Common Prayer and the language therein but it was basically of no practical value today. You can imagine why I didn’t last long at that job. You can very well imagine I begged and do beg to differ and not only for the reasons that I am about to give. Nevertheless, I am about to give some very practical reasons why the Litany is practically useful today in relation to what St. Paul begs us to do today.

First, to get rid of the things we don’t want, there are petitions in the Litany such as “From all blindness of heart, from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness. Good Lord, deliver us.” Right there, we’ve covered praying against hatred – obviously – variance and wrath – all mentioned in Galatians 5. We’ve prayed against idolatry, in the form of pride and vainglory, because the root of idolatry is pride and vainglory – reveling in ourselves rather than in God. When we pray against “sinful affections” and ask to be delivered “from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil” we’ve prayed against “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness” and “lasciviousness” “drunkenness, revellings, and such like.” We pray also against “sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion . . . all false doctrine, heresy and schism” and in so doing we do as St. Paul bids us and “pour contempt” and spit upon the works of the Devil as they manifest themselves in “strife, seditions, heresies” and “witchcraft” – witchcraft being rebellious and conspiratorial dark arts intended to subvert the created order of God. These are the ways in which the Litany helps us to do what St. Paul encourages us to do, to get rid of these evil works lest we miss the narrow gate that leads to eternal life. O Lord, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, Lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.” The exhortation commanded to be read to the people of England as they first used the Litany in 1544 said this, “Our ghostly enemy is strong, violent, fierce, subtle, and exceeding cruel. And therefore we must continually pray, with all instance that in all his assaults we may be delivered by the mighty hand of our heavenly Father from all evil.”[1]

Now it is time to see how the Litany helps pray for Faith, Hope and Charity. First Faith is prayed for when we appeal to the Trinity, “O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth;” “O God the Son, Redeemer of the world;” “O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful;” “O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God; Have mercy upon us.” We don’t primarily have faith, you see, by somehow studying in a scholarly way the truths of God, and who God is. We have faith by confessing the faith. Faith is a gift. It isn’t something we primarily grasp by our own power, but by grace. The Faith is professed, confessed, and invoked when we say, “By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation” “By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost, Good Lord, deliver us.” These are all basically points of the Creed.

Next, Hope. We pray for Hope when we pray for the Church and the State. There is so often reason for pessimism and cynicism when we observe the Church and the State. The practice of praying hopefully, feeds Hope. “We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord” is a hopeful prayer. It is certainly charitable to pray for these two institutions as well. So from praying for the President of these United States through the petition “That it may please thee to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord” I would say we are praying in the spirit and with gift of Hope. This is because our ultimate Hope is for the Kingdom of God to come. The Church and the State are foretastes of the Kingdom of God to come, a Kingdom which is, as the proper preface for the Feast of Christ the King recites, “a Kingdom universal and everlasting; a Kingdom of truth and life; a Kingdom of sanctity and grace; a Kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” In all hopefulness, we don’t want to miss His kingdom’s goal, do we. And so we pass to the biggest one, Charity.

We pray for Charitable things and we feed our hearts into being more Charitable. In the Litany, we start to pray for Charity when we as for “an heart to love and fear” God “and diligently to live after [his] commandments”. We then pray that ourselves and others may have “increase of grace to hear meekly [His] Word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring for the fruits of the Spirit.” (Those are, again, those exact fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5 today.) We pray for folks who are in heresy and schism – “That it may please thee to bring into the way of truth all such as have erred, and are deceived.” Thus we are praying for those who are swept up in heresies, witchcraft, idolatry as well as for those who have contempt for God’s holy word. We pray for those who are strong, those who are weak, those who have fallen, that we and they may “beat down Satan under our feet” – we’re all in the same condition, we’re all in this together. We pray for those “in danger, necessity, and tribulation” and for those who travel, pregnant women, sick persons, children, prisoners and captives; for the fatherless children and widows, the desolate and oppressed.” It is summed up as well praying that God would have “mercy upon all men” and asking God to “forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers.” These are all prayers for charity.

I will end with a short quote from Richard Sibbes, the Puritan Anglican, in his work filled with spiritual salve and healing, The Bruised Reed: “Let us then bring our hearts to holy resolutions, and set ourselves upon that which is good, and against that which is ill, in ourselves or others, according to our callings, with this encouragement, that Christ’s grace and power will go along with us. . . . . According to our faith, so is our encouragement to all duties, therefore let us strengthen faith, so that it may strengthen all other graces. The very belief that faith shall be victorious is a means to make it so indeed.”[2] Let us pray for Faith, Hope and Charity.

O Lord, “Set our feet on lofty places; Gird our lives that they may be Armored with all Christ-like graces In the fight to set men free. Grant us Wisdom, grant us courage, That we fail not man nor thee. Amen.”

[1] “An exhortation unto prayer, thought mete by the King’s Majesty, and his clergy, to be read to the people in every church afore processions,” 1544.

[2] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 127.

“God is One,” a Moral and not just Metaphysical Fact. – Trinity 13, 2020 by Fr. Peter Geromel 

By this one statement from St. Paul, he places himself squarely within the Jewish tradition. It is this statement that forms a connective between the Epistle and Gospel lessons. The lawyer in the Gospel lessons quotes from the Shema, after all, the Jewish recitation of the whole of duty of man, Love of God and Love of Neighbor; the statement that “God is One” is the beginning portion of that summation. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is One.”

In this statement, we hear of the doctrine of “Divine Simplicity.” Simply put, that means God is perfect, cohesive, an inseparable being. “There is but on living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions” says the First Article of Religion and we fail to recognize this truth to our peril. It is not just a metaphysical fact. It is a moral fact.

We might ask then of the Holy Trinity. The First Article just quoted recognizes this blessed Trinity saying, “And in unity of this Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity . . .” How does divine simplicity, the notion that God is One, square with that? Perhaps, first, by contrast. Imagine the heathenism, the paganism, all around the Jews. Multiple gods. They are in rivalry. Forming allegiances with some and not others. They are passionate and excite the passions, being more like Hollywood celebrities than divine beings. Their mythology is like a soap opera and trying to base your morality off of such is about as crazy as basing your morality off of a soap opera. This mythology is metaphysical, supposedly, but fails the test of being moral. The Holy Trinity, on the other hand, promotes morality, by providing and example of true love, neighborly love, between the persons of that blessed union.

The heathens couldn’t shake addiction to these myths, like we in our Hollywood culture can’t. Our Hollywood celebrities are moral and upright people, right, who promote charities? That’s the myth. In their personal lives they can’t maintain a decent marriage, when really ever married at all, for a decent period of time, failing morally. We nevertheless stay loyal to these gods, our actors. They represent something to us of great metaphysical and, in some sense, moral import – They are our totems. Our movies unite us as a culture.

We should not diminish the devastating influence that idols play in our lives. Idolatry is not simply a primitive culture falling down before wood and stone, a thing we might be tempted to pity, and laugh at, rather than to actually confront as Christians, because we love them. Idols play a role in our modern lives as well. It isn’t just the love of food or drink, of lust and all those pleasurable “devices and desires of our hearts.” Idols invade the mind from everywhere. It is even frighteningly possible to idolize God, by making Him after our own hearts rather than as He actually is. To make a straw man of God might be a likely candidate for what is actually blaspheming the Holy Spirit, the only unforgivable sin. If you really think you’ve got God pegged, and know Who it is that you are worshipping, and from Whom you are receiving forgiveness, you might be in trouble if wrong. How can you receive forgiveness from the God that is, when you are seeking forgiveness from the god that is a fiction of your own mythology?

This is what occurs here in our Gospel lesson. The lawyer has the right morality but has mythologized it. He knows what it is to “Love God, Who is One.” But he’s missed Who God actually is. You see, the lawyer in today’s Gospel lesson chose not the God of Moses, but Moses’ Law as his god. He idolized the Law and thought God was the Law, and the Law was God. Lucky for him, when asked to flesh it out, the lawyer realized that he’d missed God in God’s Law; he’d missed his neighbor.

God will not be mocked. Many who read this Gospel lesson miss God and mythologize Him. They hear of the “Good Samaritan.” They read their bibles. And then, frustratingly, decide that love is God and they idolize love. Fact Check: God is Love; love is not God. Here they have failed and built up an idol after their own hearts, literally. They take human love and decide that anytime human love is manifested, there is God. They cannot see the God Who is Love, because they’ve idolized Love. Fact Check: God is One. His love is one. He is to be revealed and manifested in love toward neighbor. God is to be emulated and we are to become holy by practicing loving neighbor as self. This is all true. Yet to disconnect some act of love which we perform from God and set that up as our idol is to worship a work of our own hands, and thus to worship ourselves. “What I do is my God.” Love that is disconnected from the God of Love withers and dies, just as the Law of Moses, disconnected from the God of Moses, withers and dies. Both are idolatrous and thereby incomplete, finite, and decaying, putrefying, actions. There is no wholeness in those acts severed from the Author of goodness, from the God who Is and the God who is One.

This last point was a subtle one, but what I am about to say will be understood clearly enough. In the Roman empire, many gods could be tolerated as long as the One Emperor was considered Divine. Today, Christians are asked more and more to navigate between two extremes – the fully-engaged version of Socialism and the undiluted form of Islam. In this form of Socialism, many gods can be tolerated as long as Love is elevated, that is to say, when “The Love of Neighbor” is supreme. In undiluted Islam, love of neighbor is only fully meritorious when practiced by one who is submitted to the one god Allah, on behalf of another who has also submitted to the one god Allah. Socialism has made a god of “Love of Neighbor,” a god which will unite the whole world in love and peace, so it is promised, if we would just get on the band wagon. Islam has made Allah the one god to whom submission must be made if the world is to be united in love and peace.

Both have the scriptures to base their arguments on. Both, like Herod and Pilate, can unite when crucifying Christ afresh, and persecuting good Christians. Islam relies on the Old Testament, Socialism on the New. You will find very few Socialists arguing for Socialism from the Old Testament and very few Muslims arguing for Islam from the New Testament. But God is One. He is the God of both the Old Testament and the New. Article VII says, “both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man.”

Labor Day is one of those days that was put on the secular calendar, for better or worse, to promote the brotherhood of man, love of neighbor. It is fitting then that we pray for the same, as long as we understand that any love of neighbor disconnected from the One Mediator, Jesus Christ (Who unites all in all) is doomed to fail. Let us pray.

Almighty God, who rulest in the kingdom of men . . . Draw together, we pray thee, in true fellowship the men of diverse races, languages, and customs, who dwell [throughout the nations of the world], that, bearing one another’s burdens, and working together in brotherly concord, they may fulfil the purpose of thy providence, and set forward thy everlasting kingdom. Pardon, we beseech thee, ours sins and shortcomings: keep far from us all selfishness and pride: and give us grace to employ thy good gifts of order and freedom to thy glory and the welfare of mankind; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.[1]

[1] Adapted from a prayer “For the British Empire,” Proposed 1928 BCP of the Church of England, 126.

“Building an Identity in Christ” – Trinity 12, 2020 by Fr. Geromel

“O Look unto him and be lightened; and your faces shall not be ashamed.” – Psalm 34

What I wish to consider today is “Building an Identity in Christ.” What does that look like? How do we do it? Two weeks ago, when I preached to you last, we looked at the idea of the city – how man is a microcosm of it, or rather how the city is a macrocosm of a man. How a man is divided up a bit like the way a city is divided up. There are the different parts or faculties of a man and there are the different parts and faculties of a city. There are different organs or “members,” all belonging and related to one another. Two weeks ago, we saw Jesus weep over a city that didn’t work right, that was not at unity, divided against itself, not long to live – the Romans were going to come in in 70 A.D. and destroy it. It was divided by sin. Two weeks ago, we followed Jesus as he stepped further into the city, to the very heart of it, the Temple of the Lord there. We see him drive out the symbolic sin that, like leaven and malice, like mold and mildew, creeps in and divides worshippers from their own God. He drove out “them that sold therein, and them that bought.” A week ago, we saw Jesus observe by parable two men, the hearts of two men – and so we have gone even deeper into the personhood of a man. What the Temple is to a City, the place of worship, so is the heart of a man. The heart of a man is his place of worship. If the heart is right, worship is right. If the heart is wrong, worship is wrong. So in the Temple, there are two hearts, two temples – one beating towards God aright, and one not so much; two hearts, one is able to worship right – the Publican – the other is not able to worship aright – he’s the Pharisee, the Hypocrite. You see how we are entering in further and further into the very identity of a man here.

The city was, in ancient times, a man’s identity. I am an Athenian. I am a Spartan. Your ideals, your virtues, your personhood, was in relation to and relation with other people living in community. A Jew was very much, if right believing and right worshipping, a man or woman of Jerusalem. There the ideals are framed. There the virtues are primarily taught, by priests and rabbis and scribes and Jesus Himself, once upon a time. Even if you were in exile, living in Nineveh, or Babylon, your mind and your heart, if you were a Jew was centered on a city, and the heart of that city, the Temple. Today, you may be a Jew living in New York or New Jersey, but I guarantee a part of your heart is always in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual personhood, the man of God.

In today’s Gospel lesson, what is happening? We again find Jesus in relation to cities, cities of Gentiles, of pagans. Tyre. Sidon. And then going to another set of cities, Decapolis. Where is Decapolis? Tyre and Sidon are modern day Lebanon. Decapolis is on the border between Lebanon and Israel and Syria. They are Hellenic cities. The Greek word just means, “Ten” – “Deca” – “Cities” – “Polis”. So he is going from city to city proclaiming the Kingdom of God, healing the sick. There in Decapolis “they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech”. He was not at unity in himself. He couldn’t hear and he couldn’t speak. We know something about that today. We wear masks, so we can’t hear each other; and we have trouble speaking. We feel disconnected as a society, as a city. We tend to have to work harder to be clear with each other and not be short with one another, on zoom meeting for work, in meeting with colleagues. We know that lack of communication is a problem for any city, company or family.

There was an effect of sin here, in this man. Did this man or his parents sin that he had these impairments? Not necessarily. But the effect of sin is that we are separated one from another, not reconciled, not able to communicate or hear each other well. This man has a straightforward and very personal handicap. But he becomes a sign of generic man in his sinfulness. Man that is not at unity with himself, others, and God; he’s under a curse. Here we have the cultural idea of the “Forgotten Man,” a hobo, a homeless person. Not at unity with society nor with himself, because, if nothing else, he isn’t a part of society.  It isn’t the only imagery we can conjure up with this gospel lesson, but it’s the one I am going to go with.

This week, as I set up a bank account and put the information together for that, I was reminded of how difficult it is for someone to lose his or her identity. All it takes is for someone, homeless, to have a wallet stolen and it can take years to rebuild your identity. How easy it can be for someone to steal your identity as well. (It seems unfair that it is perhaps easier to lose or have your identity stolen than to rebuild your identity after it is lost. But so it is.) This is because one document is dependent on another. If I try to go get document A over again, they will ask for document B and C. If I then go to another bureaucratic center to get document B they will ask for document A and C. Around and around you go. In our Quakertown church where I came from, it took five years to help one fellow do all of this and get out of a bed bug infested no-tell motel and into subsidized living. Add on the possibilities of impaired faculties, difficulties of speech, hardness of hearing, mental exhaustion combined with chronic malnutrition, if not straight up mental illness and it can be very difficult very quickly to help such a person rebuild his identity if his wallet is stolen.

But this is very much what Christ is trying to do for us. Each part of our body is infected with sin, disunited in some sense from itself, from God, from neighbor. You think that your hip can’t do what you want it to do because of an old wound or an old car accident or because you earn you daily bread sitting at a desk all day or driving around all day? Think of your will, your soul. Like St. Paul, you do the thing you don’t want to do and the thing you want to do, you can’t do it! The whole self is not adhering together as a consistent whole unit, worshipping God aright and loving neighbor as self. You are like that man who begs an overworked bureaucrat whose hip hurts from sitting all day for one single document so that he can get the ball rolling and get all the other documents.

We might ask why God in Christ Jesus chose to heal both the deaf ear and the impaired speech? Why does he heal some in one way and not in another? Why doesn’t he just heal everything at once? The short answer is, because he’s God and I don’t really know why. But I’ll hazard a guess this morning as the preacher. – Because he’s building the identity, his identity in another person. His identity is being built; ours is not being rebuilt.

Now this is on a metaphysical level. If your hip is bad, Jesus isn’t going to give you his hip, in a hip replacement. No, he’ll give you one that’s an immortal in the life of the age to come. If you lose your driver’s license, you won’t wake up with one that says Jesus on it hiding under your pillow as if the tooth fairy put it there. But in Baptism, we begin the process of rebuilding our identity in Christ. It’s a slow process that lasts all of our lives. And it’s a necessary one, because, like that the homeless man or the fellow with an impediment in his speech and ringing in his ears, or whatever he had, we’ve lost ourselves. We’ve lost our identity. We are disconnected from God, Society, Neighbor, ourselves. We need to replace all of our documents, all of our faculties; everything has to be reidentified with Christ.

Of course, we don’t cease to be us in this process. That’s an important point. Yet we’re still hesitant to undergo that process that began at our baptism. Why is that? Well, I’ll try to help you see one or two reasons: If each one of us were to take out our driver’s licenses right now, they’d probably look reasonably in good condition. If a cop pulled us over, he wouldn’t haul us away because he couldn’t read it. When I used to check Driver’s Licenses as a security guard, logging in and out trucks from warehouses, I saw some pretty beat up licenses. Now when that’s the case, it isn’t hard to convince somebody that, when they’ve got the time to stand in line at the bureaucratic office, that they should go get a new one. Of course, a truck driver can be away from a home state for quite a while and not be able to replace it. A homeless person doesn’t take much convincing either. Hey, you don’t have a life, let’s get you one and some means of identification to go along with it!

But it’s just harder when things seem to be pretty good. When your identity looks pretty good, it’s hard to convince you to work on getting a new one just as quickly as you can. The Sacraments do help though. They infuse grace into our lives. They both inspire us to do, and help us to accomplish, and, also, they preserve us in the way of everlasting life. They preserve us in the path that continues the process of reidentifying us in and with Christ. They even actively do some of the reidentifying of us with Christ. They are agents to “be filled with [His] grace and heavenly benediction” that we may be “made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.” That sounds like pretty powerful reidentification to me. Let us pray,

Regard, O Lord, we pray thee, this our bounden duty and service: that this sacrifice may be an oblation acceptable unto thee, and effectually avail for the succour of our frailty. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[1]

[1] “Secret” priestly prayer for Trinity 12, from Anglican Missal.