Christmas Thoughts from the Big 3  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

On today's celebration of the Nativity, we look at excerpts from the Christmas messages of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the Pope. Respective hat-tips to Creedal Christian, JN1034, and A Word on the Word.

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Human beings, left to themselves, have imagined God in all sorts of shapes; but...it took Christianity to introduce the world to the idea of God in the form of a baby: in the form of complete dependence and fragility, without power or control. If you stop to think about it, it is still shocking. And it is also deeply challenging.

God chose to show himself to us in a complete human life, telling us that every stage in human existence, from conception to maturity and even death, was in principle capable of telling us something about God. Although what we learn from Jesus Christ and what his life makes possible is unique, that life still means that we look differently at every other life. There is something in us that is capable of communicating what God has to say--the image of God in each of us, which is expressed in its perfection only in Jesus.

Hence the reverence which as Christians we ought to show to human beings in every condition, at every stage of existence. This is why we cannot regard unborn children as less than members of the human family, why those with disabilities or deprivations have no less claim upon us than anyone else, why we try to make loving sense of human life even when it is near its end and we can hardly see any signs left of freedom or thought.

Patriarch Bartholomew

The event of incarnation of God's word grants us the opportunity to reach the extreme limits of our nature, which are identified neither with the "good and beautiful" of the ancient Greeks and the "justice" of the philosophers, nor with the tranquility of Buddhist "nirvana" and the transcendental "fate" or so-called "karma" by means of the reputedly continuous changes in the form of life, nor again with any "harmony" of supposedly contradictory elements of some imaginary "living force" and anything else like these. Rather, it is the ontological transcendence of corruption and death through Christ, our integration into his divine life and glory, and our union by grace through Him with the Father in the Holy Spirit. These are our ultimate limits: personal union with the Trinitarian God! And Christ's nativity does not promise any vague blessedness or abstract eternity; it places in our hands the potential of personal participation in God's sacred life and love in an endless progression. It grants us the possibility not only of "receiving adoption" (Gal 4:5) but also of becoming "partakers of divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).

Pope Benedict

Today we dispose of vast material resources. But the men and women in our technological age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements , ending up in spiritual bitterness and emptiness of heart. That is why it is so important for us to open our hearts to the Birth of Christ, this event of salvation which can give new hope to the life of each human being.

Wake up, O man! For your sake God became man (St Augustine, Sermo 185). Wake up, O men and women of the third millenium!

At Christmas, the Almighty becomes a child and asks for our help and protection. His way of showing that he is God challenges our way of being human.

Benedictine Stability  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Of the three vows made by Benedictine monks at their final profession, one is that of "stability". What is monastic stability and how might it apply to those of us living in the so-called real world? Edward C Sellner in his highly recommended book Finding the Monk Within (HiddenSpring, Mahwah, NJ, 2008) discusses precisely this topic on pp 222-226. He helpfully subdivides the notion of stability into three concepts: stability of place, stability of community, and stability of heart. Existing as we do in a society that encourages us to change jobs, living spaces, and lovers every two or three years, such an idea would come across as downright radical to many people. Let's hear Sellner's thoughts:

Stability of Place

The first understanding of stability, that related to geographical location or sense of place, recognizes the monastic value of staying put, affirmed by the desert Christians in one of their wisdom sayings: "Sit in your cell and it will teach you everything."...Stability is perceived as an antidote to the restlessness of mind and heart in which a person constantly searches for new experiences, new relationships, and new geographical locations to escape difficulties or to solve problems by avoiding them. This unceasing search for the new and extravagant, of course, can too often make life and relationships superficial, and any intimacy between people extremely fragile...Benedict cautions us against the trend of making rootlessness a virtue. Rather, he counsels us to be mindful of the moment, to stay rooted in the present, perhaps above all to learn to wait patiently.

Stability of Community

For Benedictines, commitment to place is related directly to committing oneself to a specific community, a particular family of monks. Stability in this sense involves embracing one family, one community; opening oneself to the conflicts and growing pains, joys and celebrations of particular relationships of friendship and love. Benedict's Rule helps us to see that geography of place and geography of family are one terrain.

This commitment to a specific community or family can lead to greater freedom and joy as one at the same time learns firsthand the meaning of loyalty, persistence, patience, and forgiveness; the ability to accept and work with others' limitations as one learns to accept one's own.

Stability of Heart

....Centering our hearts on God can counteract our inner restlessness of heart, which Augustine describes in his autobiography. It can help us to listen, as John the beloved disciple did, to the heartbeat of God. It can also give us the courage to open the secrets of our hearts to one another, as John Cassian recommended. Benedict's gift and intuition were that stability of place and of community is ultimately about stability of heart. This is why, most likely, he begins his "Tools for Good Works" in chapter 4 with the admonition of Jesus: "First of all, 'love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself'". In staying grounded, sitting in one's cell, paying attention to the moment, we too might experience not only the presence of God, but also revelations that come, as they did to Benedict, in a flash of light. Stability of heart, centering our hearts in God, allows us to truly listen to the heart and the wisdom it waits to convey.

Thomas Merton on the Jesus Prayer  

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Thomas Merton (1915-1968) died 40 years ago today, which I observe as a feast-day in my own customized liturgical calendar. He entered the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani on this date in 1941, which was precisely the mid-point of his life. One scarcely knows where to look in his huge literary output (mostly written during a two-hour period in the course of his monastic day) for a suitable quote, but I was lucky to come across something in a very fine book, Merton and Hesychasm (Bernadette Dieker and Jonathan Montaldo, eds., Fons Vitae, Louisville, 2003), which is an anthology of articles by Merton and others dealing with his fruitful engagement with Eastern Christianity. This is from a transcript of a lecture given to the novices during the early '60's and illustrates his ability to combine deep comittment to traditional spirituality with a certain breezy irreverence. The quotes are found on pp 455 and 464 of the book.

But it is important to get some form of prayer that really just expresses everything. Obviously the classic example of this kind of prayer is what is called the Prayer of Jesus, which the Oriental monks use a great deal. Which is very, simply--what's the formula they repeat in the Prayer of Jesus, quite a long one?

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

Kyrie Jesu Christe, Elaison...

Learn it in Russian, learn it in Greek. Say it. Pep up your spiritual life with the Jesus prayer in the various languages. It's a fine prayer. It's a bit long though. You don't have to say [one] that long. You can just say "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy." You can say "My Jesus, mercy" if you want. That is a Western form. Anything like that....

Sinai is the starting point of a tradition in contemplative prayer. Who knows the name of this tradition in contemplative prayer?

The hesychast tradition. Let's write "hesychast" on the board.

What's hesychast--who's a Greek scholar? You haven't had that much Greek yet--anybody knows what a hesychast is? He's a man who likes "hesychia"--he likes "sweetness", sweetness and rest and quiet and so forth. He loves the rest of contemplation, the sweetness and rest of contemplation. A hesychast is one who likes sweetness and rest, preferably off some place in a cave or something like that.

So the story of the Oriental mystical tradition as the hesychast tradition--it's a little more than just sweetness and rest. It's built around the Prayer of Jesus....

You can say it in Greek, you can say it in Russian, and you can say it in all sorts of things. And this is repeated over and over again in a special technique--this is very good, you ought to know this. You breathe in a certain way--you say it when you're breathing and so forth. You could do this during the morning meditation. It's the easiest possible way to spend the half hour fruitfully in church, I assure you. Don't go too far with the breathing. The idea is to concentrate on this prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner," until you follow your breath down to your heart and then BOOM, a big light comes. That's Hesychasm. You see, you get the light of Tabor and it shines and so forth. That's getting a little risque, but that's this tradition.

St John of Damascus  

Posted by Joe Rawls


An Orthodox Christian of Arab ethnicity (he seems to be the only saint depicted wearing a kaffiyeh or turban), John (ca 676-749) was the scion of a family of tax-collectors who successively served both the Byzantine empire and the Islamic caliphate. He followed the family profession for a time but eventually entered the monastery of St Sabas near Jerusalem, where he devoted the rest of his life to asceticism and the writing of theological treatises.

John was ordained to the priesthood in 726, the same year that the emperor Leo the Isaurian promulgated a decree against the use of icons, thus inaugurating the iconoclastic controversy. John responded to this with a vigorous defense of icons, On Holy Images. He laid the groundwork for the Eastern Church's current theology of icons, which carefully distinguishes between latreia (worship), which is due to God alone, and proskynesis (veneration) which may legitimately be rendered to the saints and their images. He was able to do this in part because he did not live in the Byzantine empire but in a Muslim-controlled polity. In another of his works he is very critical of Islam. Go figure.

I include a couple of prayers to John from the Orthodox and Anglican traditions (his feast is today and is also observed by Roman Catholics) as well as a quote from his work on icons. The latter is, I think, an appropriate corrective to certain trendy neo-Gnostic tendencies (Gnostic-Lite would probably be a better description) which one runs into sometimes in liberal mainline Protestant circles.

Kontakion tone 4

Let us sing praises to John, worthy of great honor,
the composer of hymns, the star and teacher of the Church, the defender of her doctrines.
Through the might of the Lord's Cross he overcame heretical error,
and as a fervent intercessor before God
he entreats that forgiveness of sins may be granted to all.

From Lesser Feasts and Fasts

Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by your servant John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man, and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

From On Holy Images

I honor all matter...and venerate it....Was not..the thrice-blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulcher, the source of our resurrection; was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life? Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices made? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the veneration...of all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the veneration of images, honoring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Nicholas Ferrar  

Posted by Joe Rawls


Between Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries and the revival of monastic life in the wake of the Oxford Movement, one of the few attempts to form a spiritual community within the Church of England was that of Little Gidding, founded in 1626 by Nicholas Ferrar, whose feast is observed by the Episcopal Church on December 1.

Ferrar (1592-1637) was the son of a wealthy London merchant. He was educated at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was also a fellow. Resigning his fellowship for health reasons, he travelled throughout Europe for five years, studying medicine at the University of Padua and spending some time in Rome, where he became acquainted with Jesuits and Oratorians.

Returning to England, he became involved in the administration of the Virginia Company along with his father and brother. He served briefly in Parliament and developed impeccable connections in the court as well as in society in general. However, his father's death and the failure of the Virginia Company led to a serious decline in the family's fortunes. Egged on in part by his pious mother, Nicholas resolved to retire to a life of Godly seclusion. The estate of Little Gidding in Cambridgeshire was purchased and he became leader of what we would today call an intentional community of about thirty people, mostly relatives and in-laws.

Nicholas was ordained a deacon by Bishop William Laud, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, and he directed the Little Gidding community in a rather rigorous spiritual program. Matins and Evensong, using the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, were said daily in the estate's chapel (pictured above). A priest from a nearby parish celebrated the Eucharist once a month--a very frequent celebration by 17th-century Anglican standards. On weekdays rotating teams of residents met hourly to recite the psalms, all of which would be said every 24 hours. Nicholas himself would privately recite the entire psalter each day, staying up far into the night to do so. He customarily slept on the floor.

The community survived Nicholas's death by about ten years but was forcibly dispersed by Cromwell's troops. However, its memory survived among high-church Anglicans, inspiring several successor communities, not to mention a poem by that great Anglo-Catholic TS Elliot, part of which is reproduced below.

Collect from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

Lord God, make us worthy of your perfect love; that, with your deacon Nicholas Ferrar and his household, we may rule ourselves according to your Word, and serve your with our whole heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

From Little Gidding

If you come this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. Your are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire
Beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

Virgin of the Sign  

Posted by Joe Rawls


An icon I like very much is that of the Virgin of the Sign, which I display during Advent. Known in Greek as the Panagia, it depicts Mary with a superimposed circular image of the child Jesus. This is meant to depict Mary as pregnant with the Incarnate God.

The French Orthodox writer Olivier Clement in his book The Living God has some things to say about Mary and the Incarnation worth hearing during this season:

At once both God and man: this is the whole meaning of the Incarnation. The Virgin has become united to God by becoming His mother. In the image of Mary we accept and receive God, for God also becomes incarnate in us through the Holy Spirit. The aim of the Christian, of his struggle against sin to obtain God's pardon, is to allow the incarnation of the Word in his life--even in his body--to become apparent....

Christ, the living God, seeks us out to lead us back to His Father and to reconcile us with Him. It is He who will give back to us the lost image. He makes Himself resemble us so that we may rediscover our resemblance to God. He comes and looks for us like the lost coin, like the lost sheep. Let us agree to become once again children of light so that we may become like Him: "God became man so that man may become God." But, one might exclaim, how can we be so presumptuous as to believe that? Let us turn once again to Mary, the Mother of God, for she has fully accomplished this union with God and she is our guide along this pathway.

Mt Calvary Destroyed  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I ask your prayers for the monks of Mt Calvary monastery in Santa Barbara. Their building was destroyed last night by a very bad brush fire currently raging in the Montecito-Santa Barbara area. The monks are safe and some items, including rare books, were salvaged but the structure seems to be a total loss. The site will give you an idea of what was lost.

Communion Prayers  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

For time time now I've felt the need to make a more conscious preparation for receiving the consecrated bread and wine during the eucharist. One way of doing this is the silent recitation of traditional communion prayers, which exist in both Western and Eastern Christianity. These prayers can be said either during the service or just before leaving for church. A good selection from the Western tradition can be found in Saint Augustine's Prayer Book, published by the Anglican monastic Order of the Holy Cross. I've taken the liberty of modernizing the language.

A hat-tip to BillyD for mentioning the book on his site, reminding me that I owned a long-neglected copy.

Prayer to All the Angels and Saints

Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Powers and Virtues of the heavens, Cherubim and Seraphim and all you saints of God, especially my Patrons, vouchsafe to intercede for me , that I may be enabled worthily to receive this Sacrament to the praise and glory of God's holy name, for my benefit, and that of all God's holy church. Amen.

Prayer of St Bonaventure

Grant that my soul may hunger after you, the Bread of Angels, the Refreshment of holy souls, our daily and supersubstantial Bread, who has all sweetness, and every pleasurable delight. You, whom the Angels desire to look into, may my heart ever hunger after and feed upon; and may my soul be filled with your sweetness. May I ever thirst for you, the Fountain of life, the Fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the Fountain of eternal light, the Torrent of pleasure, the Richness of the House of God. Let me ever compass you, seek you, stretch towards you, arrive at you, meditate upon you, speak of you, and do all things to the praise and glory of your holy Name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with readiness and affection, with perseverence even unto the end. And always be my hope and my whole confidence; my riches, my delight, my pleasure, and my joy; my rest and tranquility; my peace; my sweetness; my food and refreshment; my refuge and my help; my wisdom, my portion, my possession, and my treasure; in whom my mind and heart may firmly and unchangeably be fixed and rooted, henceforth and forevermore. Amen.

Prayer to St Joseph

O Blessed Joseph, unto whose faithful guardianship was committed Christ Jesus, whom I have now received in this mighty Sacrament: pray for me that I may guard, cherish, and love him who now abides in all intimacy in my heart. Amen.

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me;
Blood of Christ, inebriate me;
Water from the side of Christ, wash me;
Passion of Christ, strengthen me;
O good Jesu, hear me;
Within your wounds hide me;
Suffer me not to be separated from you;
From the malicious enemy defend me;
In the hour of my death call me,
And bid me come to you.
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever, Amen.

Camaldoli's Eastern Roots  

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The Camaldolese are a Roman Catholic monastic order founded by St Romuald (951-1025, more or less). A native of Ravenna, Italy, he began monastic life in a traditional Benedictine monastery in that city, but soon developed a hankering for the life of a hermit. He eventually founded several monasteries in Italy that combined cenobitic (community) life with eremitic (solitary) life. Monks could choose to live as cenobites or hermits (or alternate between the two lifestyles) but still remain within the same monastic community. After Romuald's death these foundations coalesced into the Camaldolese order, which in recent years has formally affiliated with the worldwide Benedictine federation.

The current issue of the online Orthodox theological journal Theandros has a good article by Joseph Leach exploring the eastern Christian roots of Romuald's monastic spirituality (Theandros is available in the sidebar under "Favorite Links" but for convenience the article can be found here).

Leach demonstrates convincingly that Romuald is a bridge figure between the Eastern and Western churches. This is summarized in Romuald's Brief Rule (reproduced in its entirety) and in Leach's conclusion, part of which is quoted below.

Brief Rule

Sit in your cell as in paradise.
Put the whole world behind you and forget it.
Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish.
The path you must follow is in the Psalms--never leave it.
If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of
your good will, you cannot accomplish what you want,
take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart
and to understand them with your mind.
And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up;
hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.
Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there
with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.
Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God,
like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

From Leach's Conclusion

In Romualdian prayer the monk sits alone, stripped of the supports of the world, empty of the delusions of the false self. With the Word being spoken to him through the Psalms, he waits alert and humble, with an attitude of reverent awe, trust, and total dependence on God. In this the Brief Rule occupies an interesting place in the spirituality of the western church....St Romuald was trying to encapsulate the wisdom of the desert tradition and to bring it to life in the western church. The Brief Rule shows that he did this in a pure form, without embellishment or accretion. As a consequence, the style of prayer and the mode of life described here seems to be more closely related to the traditions of the Eastern Church than to those of the West, and it is perhaps not unreasonable to describe St Romuald as an Eastern Father in the Western Church.

Young Geezers and the Liturgy  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Episcopal Cafe has a most interesting post by Luiz Coelho, a Brazilian Anglican seminarian. He discusses the phenomenon of 20- and 30-somethings finding spiritual nurture in very traditional modes of worship. Apparently it's not all about U2charists. Also, this post has so far gotten over 20 comments, which has to be something of a record for this site. Here's a sample of Coelho's essay:

What I perceive more and more is that a sizeable amount (and in some environments the majority) of us prefers "old-fashioned" liturgy, and it is not rare to find youth discussing the beauty of an east-facing Mass, the dignifying simplicity of Anglican chant or the pity that Festal Evensong is almost unheard of nowadays. It may also come as a surprise for some to learn that such an interest in traditional liturgical matters is not necessarily attached to conservatism. In fact, among young adults, it usually holds hands with an inclusive and socially liberal, yet creedal, theology. Even in the few cases where I have run into theologically conservative and liturgically traditionalist young Anglicans, they have seemed to me to be much more charitable to divergent ideas and more apt to accepting diversity, or even a peaceful co-existence in different Churches, or church bodies.

Booknote: In the Heart of the Desert  

Posted by Joe Rawls in


John Chryssavgis, In the Heart of the Desert, World Wisdom, 2008.

A native Australian, John Chryssavgis is a deacon in the Greek Orthodox Church and currently serves as adviser to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues. He has a doctorate in patristics from Oxford (his thesis supervisor was Kallistos Ware) and he was on the faculty of Holy Cross Seminary in Brookline, Massachusetts.

In the Heart of the Desert is a comprehensive, approachable introduction to the spirituality of the so-called Desert Fathers and Mothers. These people flourished during a very crucial, very seminal period in the history of Christian contemplative spirituality. Starting with Antony of Egypt in the late 3rd century and lasting more or less until the advent of Islam, they protested the overly cozy relationship between church and society that followed in the wake of Constantine's edict of tolerance. Perceiving that Christianity was getting too watered-down, they fled to the deserts of Egypt and Palestine and, in effect, started over from scratch.

The book is essentially an explication of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, a compendium of material originally in Greek, Coptic, Syriac, and Latin that records the aphoristic insights of these pioneering monastics, which were originally transmitted orally. Following introductory chapters on the text and the overall historical background of the desert fathers, Chryssavgis treats the material topically, delving into such subjects as solitude, detachment, spiritual guidance, and life in the cell. There are also chapters on "The Desert and the Environment" and "The Desert and Gender". The text is richly larded with quotes from the fathers and mothers, which the author has translated himself--in a very fresh and lively manner, I should add. All in all, this is the best treatment of the subject I've come across since Derwas Chitty's The Desert a City.

Let me include some quotes by Chryssavgis, followed by excerpts from the actual Sayings.

If God is right there, in the middle of our struggle, then our aim is to stay there. We are to remain in the cell, to stay on the road, not to forgo the journey or forget the darkness. It is all too easy for us to overlook the importance of struggle, preferring instead to secure peace and rest, or presuming to reach the stage of love prematurely. It is always easier to allow things to pass by, to go on without examination and effort. Yet, struggling means living. It is a way of fully living life and not merely observing it. It takes much time and great effort to unite the disparate, disjointed and divided parts of the self into an integrated whole. During this time and in this effort, the virtue of struggle was one of the non-negotiables in the spiritual way of the desert. The Desert Fathers and Mothers speak to us with authority, because they are in fact our fellow travelers. They never claim to have arrived; they never indicate that they have completed the journey. (104)

These heroes of the spirit are filled with joy; they are also characterized by humor. The desert stories are filled with witty situations and entertaining sayings. Their humor is, in my view, undoubtedly connected to their humility. If they take themselves less seriously, it is because they want to take God more seriously. They are neither obsessed by their ascetic struggle nor preoccupied with their particular virtues. The desert dwellers can be joyful because they know that they are human and that failure comes with the territory of being human....The desert elders knew that perfection rests with the divinity; and certainly not in our frailty or in any ability that we may have to negotiate with the divinity about our virtues and our vices. (105)

Opportunities present themselves to us continually, even in a busy space. We can discover the "desert", even in the noise of a city. We can all look for a place and a moment where we will struggle with our selves and encounter God. Those are the places and the moments of temptation; those are also the places and the moments of transformation. Then we shall discover the mystery of the extraordinary in the most ordinary, the wonder of the commonplace, together with the surprise of beauty. When we have addressed our demons, will we not also know the presence of angels in our life? (109)

From the Sayings:

Abba Agathon said: "If I could meet a leper, give him my body and take his, I would be very happy. For this is indeed perfect love".

A brother who had sinned was dismissed from the community by the priest. Abba Bessarion stood up and walked out with him, saying: "I, too, am a sinner".

They asked Abba Macarius: "How should one pray?" The old man replied: "There is no need to make long discourses; it is enough simply to stretch out one's hands and say: 'Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.' And if the conflict grows fiercer, say: 'Lord, help!' He knows very well what we need and shows us his mercy".

Abba Pambo said, "If you have a heart, you can be saved".

Abba Sarmatas said: "I prefer a sinful man, who knows that he has sinned and repents, to a man who has not sinned and considers himself righteous".

Teresa of Avila  

Posted by Joe Rawls in


Teresa (1515-1582) was one of the great figures of 16th century Spanish Catholicism and one of the great Christian mystics, period. Hers was a family of converted Jews that came under the scrutiny of the Inquisition. Her parents were opposed to her vocation and she had to sneak out of her house early one morning to go to the Carmelite convent she felt drawn to join. The Carmelites of those days had gotten somewhat lax, and she began a reform movement which resulted in the foundation of twenty or so convents during her lifetime. Both men and women were subject to her authority; one of these was the equally great mystic John of the Cross. She wrote a number of works, her masterpiece being The Interior Castle.

On her feast today, rather than a long quote from the Castle--I always get depressed when I try to figure out which of the seven mansions I'm in at my present stage of spiritual development--I'd like to share three of her poems with you. Before we get to that, I want to mention two things of related interest. First is a book by Rowan Williams, Teresa of Avila (Continuum 2000), which he wrote before becoming chief cat-herder of the Anglican Communion. I found it very informative without being overbearingly academic.

I should also mention the existence of a community of Byzantine rite Carmelites in Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania. Their website is worth a visit.

Christ has no body

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which is to look out
Christ's compassion to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good,
yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

God alone is enough

Let nothing upset you,
let nothing startle you.
all things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins
all that it seeks.
Whoever has God
lacks nothing:
God alone is enough.

Let mine eyes see

Let mine eyes see thee, sweet Jesus of Nazareth,
let mine eyes see thee, and then see death.
Let them see that can, Roses and Jessamine,
seeing thy face most fair, all blossom are therein.
flower of Seraphim, sweet Jesus of Nazareth.
Let mine eyes see thee, and then see death.
Nothing I require, where my Jesus is,
anguish all desire, saving only this,
all my help is his, he only succoreth.
Let mine eyes see thee, and then see death.

Theosis and Eucharist  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,


A very provocative website is JN1034 (http://jn1034.blogspot.com/), maintained by a gay Greek Orthodox priest who remains anonymous for obvious reasons. However, his commitment to traditional spirituality and theology proves that being lgbt does not automatically make one an adherent of the Jesus Seminar. His post "The Theandric (God-Man) Flesh and Blood of the Holy Trinity", appearing in today's edition of his blog, speaks of the connection between the Eucharist and theosis--the process of becoming united with God by becoming God-like. Note the contrast between fear and awe.

In the Eastern...Churches, this is the priest's call for people to advance to the Mystical Supper and receive the Holy Eucharist: "With the awe of God, faith, and love, come near..." However, most English translations use the word "fear" rather than "awe"...

Established Patristic usage of the Greek word phobos (fear) also meant respect, honor, and reverence....The word fear contradicts not only the original meaning of the compulsory directive to come forth to the Holy Chalice with amazement and reverence, but also of Holy Scripture: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1Jn 4;18).

The Theandric Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ are not punishments whatsoever, but are the awe-inspiring, therapeutic, god-making holy gifts of recompense for all--all, not one foresaken, none passed over by the Paschal Lamb (double-entendre, yes).

"Take, eat, this is my Body...Drink it, all of you, this is my Blood".

Again, this is an obligatory command, not an elective, not an option, not multiple choice. To become a god via the Holy Eucharist is nonnegotiable. Its mystery of deification is unconditional. The mind need not comprehend this Holy Sacrament (it cannot, nevertheless); the heart must be receptive (love is the attracting force of nature between God and humanity); and the flesh must simply consume God.

Yes, swallow God. You are what you eat, yes? Please note Jesus is quoted as saying "This is..." He does not say "This is similar to..." or "This is an analogy of...", or "This is kind of like..."His words are clear. Is means is. Obvious, to the point, and not ambiguous. Hence, it is the most awesome Mystery of Life: God and God's gods in communion, as God promises: "I said, you are gods"(Jn 10:34).

Polkinghorne on Creationism  

Posted by Joe Rawls


Rev Dr Sir John Polkinghorne, OBE, Anglican priest and retired physics professor at Cambridge, is one of the leading figures in the sometimes acrimonious dialogue between religion and science (his website is available here). He has an interesting opinion piece on creationism, which has recently caused a stir in Britain, in the Times of London. It's well worth a read, especially for Americans. Here's a quote:

As a Christian believer I am, of course, a creationist in the proper sense of the term, for I believe that the mind and purpose of a divine Creator lie behind the fruitful history and remarkable order of the universe which science explores. But I am certainly not a creationist in that curious North American sense, which implies interpreting Genesis 1 in a flat-footed literal way and supposing that evolution is wrong.

"Curious North American sense", indeed.

Hildegard on the Trinity  

Posted by Joe Rawls



Hildegard (1098-1179), abbess of the monastery of St Rupertsberg in the Rhineland town of Bingen, was a mystic as well as a polymath--she had expertise in theology, pholosophy, natural history, medicine, and, especially, music. The tenth child of a minor noble family, she was given as a child to the Benedictine monastery of St Disibode. This was a so-called "double monastery" (monks and nuns shared the premises, though in separate living quarters), and she was taken under the wing of Jutta, an anchoress. As a child, Hildegard manifested what could be considered psychic abilities; in her 43rd year she had a series of vivid, detailed visions that are described in her illuminated book Scivias. The onset and nature of the visions are consistent with what modern medicine knows of migraine, and she has been described as "the most distinguished migraine sufferer". The actual content of the visions, by contrast, is unique.

On today's feast, I leave you with the collect for the day taken from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, followed by an excerpt (complete with illumination appearing at the top of the post) from Vision Two ("The Trinity") of the Scivias (Paulist Press, 1990, pp 161-162). There is also a very well-done video on Hildegard produced by Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street.

Collect

God of all times and seasons: Give us grace that we, after the example of your servant Hildegard, may both know and make known the joy and jubilation of being part of your creation, and show forth your glory not only with our lips but in our lives; Through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Vision Two

Then I saw a bright light, and in this light the figure of a man the color of a sapphire, which was all blazing with a gentle glowing fire. And that bright light bathed the whole of the glowing fire, and the glowing fire bathed the bright light; and the bright light and the glowing fire poured over the whole human figure, so that the three were one light in one power of potential. And again I heard the living Light, saying to me: ....
Therefore you see a bright light, which without any flaw of illusion, deficiency, or deception designates the Father; and in this light the figure of a man the color of a sapphire, which without any flaw of obstinacy, envy, or iniquity designates the Son, Who was begotten of the Father in Divinity before time began, and then within time was incarnate in the world in Humanity; which is all blazing with a gentle glowing fire, which fire without any flaw of aridity, mortality, or darkness designates the Holy spirit, by Whom the Only-Begotten of God was conceived in the flesh and born of the Virgin within time and poured the true light into the world. And that bright light bathes the the whole of the glowing fire, and the glowing fire bathes the bright light; and the bright light and the glowing fire pour over the whole human figure, so that the three are one light in one power of potential. And this means that the Father, Who is Justice, is not without the Son or the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit, Who kindles the hearts of the faithful, is not without the Father or the Son; and the Son, Who is the plenitude of fruition, is not without the Father or the Holy Spirit. They are inseparable in Divine Majesty, for the Father is not without the Son, nor the Son without the Father, nor the Father and the Son without the Holy Spirit, nor the Holy Spirit without Them. Thus these three Persons are one God in the one and perfect divinity of majesty, and the unity of Their divinity is unbreakable; the Divinity cannot be rent asunder, for it remains inviolable without change. But the Father is declared through the Son, the Son through Creation, and the Holy Spirit through the Son incarnate. How? It is the Father Who begot the Son before the ages; the Son through Whom all things were made by the Father when creatures were created; and the Holy Spirit Who, in the likeness of a dove, appeared at the baptism of the Son of God before the end of time.

Exaltation of the Holy Cross  

Posted by Joe Rawls


This is a very ancient feast, celebrated by Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Armenians, and even a few Lutherans. It is also the titular feast of the Anglican Order of the Holy Cross, of which I am an associate. It dates from 326, when Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While there, she oversaw excavations for a basilica built on the site of Golgotha. Pieces of wood were uncovered which were accepted as parts of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. A few centuries later, invading Persians carried off the sacred relics. They were recovered by the emperor Heraclius and returned to Jerusalem in 629, just in time for the conquest of that city by the new Islamic movement.

I include prayers of the feast from the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican traditions.

Kontakion 4th Tone

Lifted up on the cross by your free will, Christ God, grant mercies to the new commonwealth that bears your name. Gladden our faithful rulers by your power, giving them victories over their adversaries. May your alliance be for them a weapon for peace, and invincible standard.

Roman Catholic

God our Father, in obedience to you, your only son accepted death on the cross for the salvation of mankind. We acknowledge the mystery of the cross on earth. May we receive the gift of redemption in heaven. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Episcopal Book of Common Prayer

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have the grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one god, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Dueling Worldviews  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Derek Olsen of Haligweorc has written a very cogent, very helpful post on the relationship between various worldviews, especially the worldviews underpinning traditional Christianity on the one hand and science (or secular rationalism or whatever your favorite buzzword might be) on the other. I've selected some bits that really spoke to me; do read the whole thing if you get a chance.

Specifically speaking as an American pragmatist, I go with the worldview that works. when I'm in "installing computer components" mode, I'm all Newtonian physics. when I'm in "playing cards" mode, I'm all about quantum physics and probability mechanics....when I wonder about my salvation, I go pre-scientific all the way.

How does this make me neither schizophrenic nor intellectually inconsistent? Because I'm not hegemonic about any of my worldviews. I think that they are all models that serve to describe certain aspects of reality from certain perspectives....I don't think that any of these worldviews offer all the answers to any apprehension of reality and that gives me the freedom to switch between them when I need to.

....In living between worldviews I have found a certain amount of power in a scientific worldview, the kind of power that confirms its truth....But the same is also true of the religious, pre-scientific worldview; I have experienced the power of the resurrection in my life, of the communion of the saints, and God as creator in ways that verify their truth. While the scientific worldview has power in its realm, it cannot touch the spiritual side of my life in the way that the creedal truths do....

As a result when in the field of personal belief I experience a conflict between the creedal worldview and the scientific worldview, I go with the creeds....One of the reasons I allow the creeds to trump science is because of hope. I hope that there is more to life and existence than empirical materialism. Faith in the creeds allows a belief in the mundus plenior, a world where reality cannot be bounded only by what can be weighed and measured. There are wonders in the world that our science does not explain....

In short, I'm proposing an active cognitive dissonance. Not an unthinking one that does not recognize the conflict between worldviews, but one that both notes it and appreciates that all of our worldviews are reductionistic models of a reality that we can never completely quantify or wrap our heads around. Call it a creative contradiction.

Oblate Spring  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I was surfing the net the other night when I came upon a very fine website called Oblate Spring. An oblate, in case you don't know, is a layperson who tries to structure his or her spiritual life according to monastic principles while still living in the so-called real world. A typical oblate will pray the daily office, engage in forms of contemplative prayer, do lots of spiritual reading, and be in spiritual direction, among other things. Participation in a local congregation is a given. The oblate follows a definitive rule of life and has a relationship, reinforced by solemn promises, with a particular monastic community. I myself am an associate (we're called associates instead of oblates, but the principle is the same) of the Anglican Order of the Holy Cross.

Oblate Spring is slanted towards Roman Catholic Benedictines but has lots of good material relevant to any Christian with a serious commitment to contemplative prayer. I've included it in the Favorite Links section of the sidebar. It's maintained by John Bakas, himself an oblate of
St Leo's Abbey in central Florida.

Monday Miscellany  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Following up on what was excerpted here on the Feast of St Mary, The Anglican Scotist has a very good post on Mary's role in the church. Here's the final paragraph:

It seems to me that the Anglican Communion could contribute something here, even now. On the one hand, its members have succeeded here and there in drawing mainline Protestant fragments together....To that extent, modest Anglican devotion to Mary has an opportunity to grow in other mainline churches. And to the extent that succeeds, the right time, the kairos, for promulgation draws nearer. To the extent, however, the AC is drawn over into a modern, Calvinist orbit, one wherein Marian devotions are dismissed with scorn, that day recedes further away.

And, over at The Topmost Apple, bls has a few pithy remarks about clergy and (or vs) laity:

Could we please kneel when we like, and enjoy a bit of peaceful contemplation in our pews--rather than being told we're not doing enough to suit you, and being forced to do whatever nutty things you've dreamed up now? This is just another avoidance mechanism, if you ask me--a way not to have to sit still with oneself and think too hard about anything.

A way to keep busy, rather than having to deal with feelings and with life. Typically American and typically shallow.

The Dormition of the Theotokos...  

Posted by Joe Rawls


...or the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Or the feast of St Mary the Virgin. Or any attempt to make some sense of the life of a Jewish peasant girl who got pregnant out of wedlock.

We mark today's feast first of all with a quote from an essay by Anglican Craig Uffman; the complete piece can be found here. Then we have a sermon by St Gregory Palamas, a Greek theologian of the 14th century and a crucial figure in the development of hesychasm. Then we round things off with an excerpt from Missing Mary (New York and Basingstoke, Palgrave McMillan 2004, p. 208), a book by Charlene Spretnak, a Roman Catholic feminist (no, that's not a complete oxymoron).




Uffman
It is surely significant that Mary responds [to God] magnificently as a woman. It is fashionable these days to deny the particularity of our sexuality, as though being male and female means that we are "merely different". But we are known only insofar as we are bodily, which means that only insofar as we are male and female. So it is important that Mary's relation to Christ is not merely spiritual, but intensely biological. Her relation to Christ is incarnational; her flesh, her person, and her relation to God are inseparable.

Palamas
She is the cause of what came before her, the champion of what came after her and the agent of things eternal....She is the glory of those upon earth, the joy of celestial beings, the adornment of all creation. She is the beginning and the source and root of unutterable good things, she is the summit and consummation of everything holy.

Spretnak
Theological reflection in every age ideally energizes the contemporary engagement with the Mystery of the Incarnation by bringing to bear the fullest, most current knowledge about the Creation. Twenty-first century physiology reveals that a mother's body receives some of her fetus's cells and DNA, which can remain in her indefinitely. Therefore, Mary's body contained cells of God-the-Son for the remainder of her days, which she spent as the First Disciple of the "Jesus Sect". That is, divine presence entered Mary from the moment she assented at the Annunciation, and it never left. Moreover, contemporary science tells us that pregnancy and child-birth alter the mother's brain by creating new neural pathways. Imagine the neural pathways that would develop in a woman's brain while God-the-Son was gestating within her and growing from her very flesh! Of course, Jesus was physiologically fully human but he was also fully divine--and they both knew that, which surely must have lent a profound dimension to their intimate connection. That elemental connection became part of Mary forever. The Catholic tradition of mystical engagement with the mystical birth of Christ has long intuited this aspect of Mary's spiritual being: Mary after Christ was more than human, the luminous Blessed Mother. During the first several centuries of Christianity, this was particularly apparent to the laity. Many grassroots Christians considered Mary to be the Theotokos long before the Early Church Fathers decreed the title official.

Transfiguration Quotes  

Posted by Joe Rawls


Today we remember the Transfiguration, a major feast in the Eastern churches but somewhat downplayed in the West. I offer three relevant quotes. The first is from Thomas Merton and is found in Merton and Hesychasm, Dieker and Montaldo eds., Louisville, Fons Vitae, 2003, pp. 231-232. The second is from Rowan Williams, The Dwelling of the Light, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2003, pp. 11-12. The final excerpt is from Vincent Rossi's article "The Transfiguration of Creation", found here on an excellent website maintained by The Orthodox Fellowship of the Transfiguration.

Merton
The whole tradition of iconography represents a traditional experience formulated in a theology of light, the icon being a kind of sacramental medium for the illumination and awareness of the glory of Christ within us....What one "sees" in prayer before an icon is not an external representation of a historical person, but an interior presence in light, which is the glory of the transfigured Christ, the experience of which is transmitted in faith from generation to generation by those who have "seen", from the apostles on down....So when I say that my Christ is the Christ of the icons, I mean that he is reached not through any scientific study but through direct faith and the mediation of the liturgy, art, worship, prayer, theology of light, etc., that is all bound up with the Russian and Greek Tradition.

Williams
This is an icon of quite violent force, explosive quality; it shows an extreme experience. We may find it difficult to relate to at first for that reason: we may be struck and impressed by it, yet feel also that nothing in our own experience corresponds to this. We weren't there; we haven't seen the skys opening, the light suffusing the lonely figure on the rock, the weight of divine presence forcing us back, bowing us down. But the point of this, as of any icon, is not either to depict or to produce some kind of special experience in that sense: it is to open our eyes to what is true about Jesus and the saints. And what is true about Jesus is--if we really encounter it in its fullness--shocking, devastating: that this human life is sustained from the depths of God without interruption and without obstacle, that it translates into human terms what and who God the Son eternally is. The shock comes from realizing this means that God's life is compatible with every bit of human life, including the inner terrors of Gethsemane (fear and doubt) and the outer terrors of Calvary (torment and death)....But the point of this image of the transfiguration is to reinforce how the truth about Christ interrupts and overthrows our assumptions about God and about humanity.

Rossi
The disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration were also transfigured, not only in spirit and soul, but also in body. The uncreated light and grace of Christ, streaming from his transfigured face, body, and garments, transfigured the very senses of the apostles, allowing them to behold his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father, "full of grace and truth". Since the human nature shared by Christ with all humanity, according to the Fathers, is a microcosm of the whole created order, the fact that the transfigured body of Christ reveals his divinity in a flood of uncreated light, and that this same transfiguring uncreated energy streams from his face, body, and clothing and illuminates and transfigures the bodies of the apostles, means without doubt that the whole of creation is lifted up, and is meant to be lifted up, transformed and transfigured by the irresistible power of the grace of the Logos.

More on Green Orthodoxy  

Posted by Joe Rawls


I posted earlier on "The Green Patriarch", quoting Patriarch Bartholomew's declaration that destroying the environment is a sin. As far as I know, no other church leader of comparable rank has yet characterized environmental degradation in such starkly moralistic terms. I've recently come across some other material illustrating the Orthodox attitude towards the material cosmos that I'd like to share.

The patriarchal website has a subsection dealing with ecological matters which is very informative.

Another good site is that of the Orthodox Research Institute which has a similar section dealing with the relationship between theology and ecology. It contains the full version of "Orthodoxy and ecological problems: a theological approach" by Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, an excerpt of which follows:

  1. The world has a beginning in a radical sense; it was created out of nothing and is constantly threatened by the return to nothingness. It is not eternal, rather it is fragile, like a precious vase of crystal, and must be approached with reverence, fear, and trembling.
  2. This careful handling was entrusted by God to human beings, as distinct from all other beings and angels. According to Patristic theology man was created material and spirit, to be a microcosm of creation...As the priests of creation we have the unique mission and great responsibility of uniting God and the material world. Our task is not simply to preserve creation but to purify it and elevate it to the level of divine existence. This act of elevation, the referring of creation to its creator, is the essence of our priesthood; this creation is sanctified and partakes of the blessings that participating in divine life involves.
  3. The salvation of human beings which is offered by and in Christ is for us a cosmic event. Through human beings all creation will be saved. Christ not only saves us from ourselves, he offers the redemption of the whole of creation. The incarnation of the Son of God as man was nothing but assuming human nature, not to save man in his own right, but because it carries with it the rest of creation by implication.
  4. The Eucharist characterizes Orthodox theology not so much as a mental discipline but as an experience. Ever since St Irenaeus it has been understood that the Eucharist is not simply a memorial of Christ's death and resurrection but is a cosmic event involving the whole of creation. Bread and wine are not just symbolic elements linking the church to the Last Supper but are representative of the material world and of creation. Equally, human beings, by participating in the Eucharist, participate in a redeemed material world...The Orthodox Christian, by constantly experiencing the Eucharist, affirms that the material world must survive and be redeemed from whatever prevents it from developing into a world which will unite finally with God.
  5. The ascetic experience, as affirmed by the Orthodox church, has unfortunately often been mistaken as a negative attitude to material creation. The ascetic is seen as one who depreciates or rejects the material world. This...is not typical of the true asceticism of the Church. The ascetic abstains from the material world not because he regards matter as inferior but because he respects matter very much and does not want to exploit it for individual pleasure. Another often forgotten dimension of the ascetic experience is that the true ascetic participates in the suffering of the whole of creation, even to the extent of weeping over the death of a bird or animal.
Finally, I'd like to present part of the Akathist in Praise of God's Creation by Metropolitan Tryphon, a Russian cleric who died about 1934. An akathist is a very long liturgical hymn organized in a particular pattern. The complete piece can be found here:

You brought me into this life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky, like a deep blue cup ringing with birds in the azure heights. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the sweet-sounding music of the waters. we have tasted fragrant fruit of fine flavor and sweet-scented honey. How pleasant is our stay with you on earth: it is a joy to be your guest.

Glory to you for the feast-day of life.
Glory to you for the perfume of lilies and roses,
Glory to you for each different taste of berry and fruit,
Glory to you for the sparkling silver of early morning dew,
Glory to you for each smiling, peaceful awakening,
Glory to you for eternal life in us, a messenger of heaven,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.

St John Cassian on Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls


John Cassian was born about 360 in Dobrogea , located in the Danube delta in what is modern Romania. Somewhat atypically for an Eastern Christian, his native language was Latin. He entered a Bethlehem monastery in his early twenties but spent many years as a visitor among the desert fathers in Egypt. He next shows up in Constantinople, where he was ordained a deacon by St John Chrysostom. When the latter was deposed, Cassian had to leave and ended up near Marseilles, where he became a priest and founded one monastery for men and another for women. He died in 435.

His works are the Institutes and the Conferences, from which latter work (New York, Paulist Press, 1985) the following quotes are taken. Although not recognized as a saint by the Western church, he is mentioned in Benedict's Rule and his feast is locally celebrated in Marseilles on today's date.

Prayer changes at every moment in proportion to the degree of purity in the soul and in accordance with the extent to which the soul is moved either by outside influence or of itself. Certainly the same kind of prayers cannot be uttered continuously by by any one person. A lively person prays one way. A person brought down by the weight of gloom or despair prays another. One prays another way when the life of the spirit is flourishing, and another way when pushed down by the mass of temptation. One prays differently, depending on whether one is seeking the gift of some grace or virtue or the removal of some sinful vice. The prayer is different once again when one is sorrowing at the thought of hell and the fear of future judgement, or when one is fired by hope and longing for future blessedness, when one is in need or peril, in peace or tranquility, when one is flooded with the light of heavenly mysteries or when one is hemmed in by aridity in virtue and staleness in one's thinking. (p. 107)

We need to be especially careful to follow the gospel precept which instructs us to go into our room and to shut the door so that we may pray to our Father. And this is how we can do it.

We pray in our room whenever we withdraw our hearts completely from the tumult and the noise of our thoughts and our worries and when secretly and intimately we offer our prayers to the Lord.

We pray with the door shut when without opening our mouths and in perfect silence we offer our petitions to the One who pays no attention to words but who looks hard at our hearts.

We pray in secret when in our hearts alone and in our recollected spirits we address God and reveal our wishes only to Him and in such a way that the hostile powers themselves have no inkling of their nature. Hence we must pray in utter silence, not simply in order that our whispers and our cries do not prove both a distraction to our brothers standing nearby and a nuisance to them when they themselves are praying but also so as to ensure that the thrust of our pleading be hidden from our enemies who are especially lying in wait to attack us during our prayers. In this way we shall fulfill the command "Keep your mouth shut from the one who sleeps on your breast" (Mi 7:5).

The reason why our prayers ought to be frequent and brief is in case the enemy, who is out to trap us, should slip a distraction to us if ever we are long-drawn-out. There lies true sacrifice. "The sacrifice which God wants is a contrite heart" (Ps 50:19). This indeed is the saving oblation, the pure offering, the sacrifice of justification, the sacrifice of praise. These are the real and rich thank offerings, the fat holocausts offered up by contrite and humble hearts. If we offer them to God in the way and with zeal which I have mentioned we can be sure to be heard and we can sing: "Let my prayer rise up like incense before your face and my hands like the evening offering" (Ps 140:2). (p. 123-124).

Kallistos Ware on the Jesus Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls


Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is one of the leading Orthodox spiritual writers in the English-speaking world. Born Timothy Ware in Bath, England in 1934, he was raised in the Church of England. He converted to Orthodoxy as a young man and several years later made his monastic profession and was ordained to the priesthood. He served for many years as an Oxford lecturer in Byzantine studies.

Bishop Kallistos has written and spoken often on the Jesus prayer, one of the underpinnings of Eastern Christian spirituality (I have an earlier post on the same subject which can be found under "The Jesus Prayer" in the Previous Posts section of the sidebar). The following excerpt is from a recent interview carried over Ancient Faith Radio, an Orthodox webcasting enterprise. And, while I vehemently disagree with his politics, a big hat-tip nonetheless to Thomas Katsampes for transcribing it.

The Jesus prayer can be used in two main ways. It can be used as part of our daily special prayer time when we are seeking to pray and not to do anything else. I might call that the "fixed" use. And then the Jesus prayer can be used during the day as we go about our characteristic activities in all the passing moments that might otherwise be wasted. As we are doing familiar tasks, as we are walking from place to place, as we are waiting for the bus, or...when we're stuck in a traffic jam. The first thing when we wake up in the morning, the last thing before we go to sleep. if we can't sleep at night, we can say the Jesus prayer in a free way.

Now the fixed use of the Jesus prayer helps to produce within us a contemplative attitude. It helps to create silence within us. The Jesus prayer is a prayer in words, but because the words are very simple and constantly repeated, in and through the words of the Jesus prayer we reach out into the living silence of God. Sometimes, yes, in our prayer we can simply wait on God and not say anything. Those are very precious moments, but if we try to do this regularly we may find that in practice we are simply subject to endless wandering thoughts. We can't by a simple act of will turn off the internal television set. So the Jesus prayer gives us in our prayer time a specific way of praying, a practical method which can help to gather us in prayer, can help us to overcome wandering thoughts, can help us to attain through words an attitude of silence, of waiting on God, of listening to Him...

As to the "free' use, it would seem that its aim is to help us to find Christ everywhere...It helps us to bring Christ into the different moments of our daily life so that our awareness of God's presence with us is not just limited to our set prayer time, but flows over into the day so that as we go about our familiar tasks while performing those tasks with full attentiveness we can also become aware that Christ is with us wherever we are and whatever we do. So that the Jesus prayer bridges the gap between prayer time and work time. It helps us to turn our work into prayer. Paul says "pray without ceasing", not just morning and evening, not just seven times a day, but without ceasing, continually. How are we to do that? Perhaps the first step is to use very frequent prayers, to have throughout the day moments of prayer. The prayer may not be continuous but it will become more and more frequent, and that is the first step to fulfilling St Paul's injunction. So the Jesus prayer helps to make the whole world a sacrament of God's presence. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we feel that Christ is with us. And many people feel called to use the Jesus prayer in this free way, even though perhaps they may not use the Jesus prayer in their set prayer times in the fixed way. That's perfectly all right. Each should follow the path of prayer to which each feels personally called, with the guidance of course of their spiritual father or spiritual mother.

Prayers to St Benedict  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Benedict of Nursia (480-547) was the scion of a noble family who was sent to Rome for a good classical education. He was disgusted by the morally dubious behavior of many of his classmates (some things never change) and so he resolved to take up the life of a hermit. After a few years of this, his reputation for holiness had grown to the point where he was persuaded to become the abbott of a small nearby monastery. Unfortunately, these monks were just a bunch of slackers, and when Benedict had the gall to tell them to actually live like monks, they tried to poison him. From this inauspicious beginning, Benedict went on to establish more successful (and less homicidal) monasteries at Subiaco and Monte Cassino. He wrote his famous Rule for monastics during the last years of his life. Almost all of what we know about his life is found in the Dialogues of St Gregory the Great, incidentally one of the founders of the English church.

On today's feast of St Benedict I want to share a few prayers to him taken from the Roman, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions. We start with two Orthodox selections taken from the Menaion for the month of March, when they observe his feast. (a menaion is a service book containing variable prayers). A troparion is a stanza of a hymn or religious poem; a kontakion is a collect hymn or sung collect. Then we go to a prayer taken from The Online Guide to St Benedict, a Roman Catholic site. Finally we top things off with the collect for today found in the Episcopalian Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

Troparion tone 1
By your ascetical struggle, O Godbearing Benedict,
you proved true to your name.
For you were the son of benediction, and became a model and rule to all who emulate your life and cry:
Glory to Him who has strengthened you; glory to Him who has crowned you; glory to Him who through you works healings for all.

Kontakion tone 8
Like a sun of the Dayspring from on high
you enlightened the monks of the West and instructed them by word and deed.
By the sweat of these ascetical achievements
purge from the filth of passions us who honor you and cry: Rejoice O Father Benedict.

From The Online Guide to St Benedict
Lord, by your grace St Benedict became a great teacher in the school of your service. Grant that we may put nothing before our love of you, and may we walk eagerly in the path of your commandments. Through Jesus Christ...Amen.

From Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Almighty and everlasting God, your precepts are the wisdom of a loving Father: Give us grace, following the teaching and example of your servant Benedict, to walk with loving and willing hearts in the school of the Lord's service; let your ears be open to our prayers; and prosper with your blessing the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ our Lord...Amen.

This 'N That  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I draw your attention to a few additions and one deletion in the "Favorite Links" portion of the sidebar.

The Chicago Consultation is an advocacy group for the full inclusion of LGBT people within the church. See especially Marilyn McCord Adams' major address.

Occidentalis is a good reference source for liturgical texts of both the Eastern and Western churches.

Science and Faith contains a number of essays--and many useful links--on this vitally important topic. It is the work of Episcopalian Robert J Schneider, retired professor at Berea College.

On a more negative note, Fr Jake Stops the World is no longer with us; it's been discontinued by its blogkeeper Fr Terry Martin. It was a very active site for the discussion of current issues impacting the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. His posts would routinely draw 50-100 comments; many were unkind or plain snarky and some weren't even sane. I guess Terry just burned out. A big tip of the hat to him for all his work.

Finally, I can't resist throwing in this bit from the wildly popular site Stuff White People Like. This is the creation of Christian Lander, a Canadian who had the great good sense to drop out of the film studies PhD program at Indiana University. Now he's probably getting a best-selling book out of the thing.

#2 Religions that their parents don't belong to

White people will often say they are "spiritual" but not religious. Which usually means that they will believe any religion that doesn't include Jesus.

Popular choices include Buddhism, Hinduism, Kabbalah and, to a lesser extent, Scientology. A few even dip into Islam, but it's much more rare, since you have to give up stuff and actually go to Mosque.

Mostly they are into religion that fits really well into their homes or wardrobe and doesn't require them to do very much.

Holy Fear(s)  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Traditional spiritual writers sometimes speak of "holy fear", a feeling of great awe for God's sovereign power that motivates us--not so much from fear of hell as from a sense of reverence--to avoid sin and live virtuous lives. This post, alas, does not rise to such heights but wallows in the neurotic fears diagnosed by the shrink class as phobias. Specifically, they are religious phobias. The first section is taken from The Phobia List. A major tip of the hat to my wife Nancy for referring me to it.

The second part contains a few distinctly Anglican phobias which I have diagnosed myself. I will propose them for inclusion in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. I am not holding my breath.

  • allodoxophobia--fear of opinions.
  • decidophobia--fear of making decisions.
  • ecclesiophobia--fear of church.
  • enosiophobia--fear of having committed an unpardonable sin.
  • epistemophobia--fear of knowledge.
  • erotophobia--fear of sex.
  • euphobia--fear of hearing good news.
  • hadephobia--fear of hell.
  • hagiophobia--fear of saints or holy things.
  • hamartophobia--fear of sinning.
  • hedonophobia--fear of feeling pleasure.
  • heterophobia--fear of the opposite sex.
  • hexacosioihexekontahexaphobia--fear of the number 666.
  • hierophobia--fear of priests.
  • hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia--fear of long words.
  • homilophobia--fear of sermons.
  • homophobia--fear of homosexuality.
  • ideophobia--fear of ideas.
  • judeophobia--fear of Jews.
  • kainolophobia--fear of anything new.
  • necrophobia--fear of death.
  • ouranophobia--fear of heaven.
  • panthophobia--fear of suffering.
  • papaphobia--fear of the Pope.
  • theologicophobia--fear of theology.
  • theophobia--fear of gods or religion.
Now for a few Anglican phobias (not to be confused with Anglophobia, though this plays a role in the current difficulties):

  • akinolaphobia--fear of Global South bishops with serious attitude.
  • breederphobia--fear that the worship committee will be completely taken over by heterosexuals. Not a big issue in Anglo-Catholic parishes.
  • coughupthebucksophobia--fear of the parish stewardship campaign.
  • iconophobia--fear of icons, especially by people who think Thomas Kincaid is a great artist.
  • incenseophobia--fear of incense, especially by people who suffer from respiratory diseases only when they go to church.
  • jeffertsschoriphobia--fear of women bishops with doctorates in marine biology.
  • rowanophobia--fear of archbishops with out-of-control eyebrows.

Ephrem the Syrian  

Posted by Joe Rawls


Today the Episcopal Church honors Ephrem the Syrian, also known as Ephrem of Edessa (his feast is observed by the Orthodox on January 28). Ephrem was born in Nisibis in the year 306 and is thought to have died in 373 (or maybe 379). He was ordained a deacon and also appointed a teacher. He founded the School of Nisibis, which survived him by several centuries. He is often described as a monk, though there is no evidence he actually took vows. He is known to have lived a very austere life. About ten years before Ephrem's death, Nisibis fell under the control of the Persian emperor, who promptly expelled all the Christians. Ephrem ended up in Edessa.

Ephrem's literary output consisted mainly of hymns, of which over 400 survive. They were written in Syriac, linguistically related to the Aramaic of Jesus and the apostles. He uses these hymns as a medium for the defense of Orthodox theology against Gnosticism, Arianism, Manicheanism, and other belief systems. They are full of rich, frequently earthy, imagery. The sample below is a nativity hymn translated by Sebastian Brock, the distinguished Oxford Syriac scholar (The Harp of the Spirit, Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, 1983).

Your mother is a cause of wonder:
the Lord entered into her
and became a servant; he who is the Word entered--
and became silent within her;
Thunder entered her and made no sounds;
there entered The Shepherd of all,
and in her He became the Lamb, bleating as He comes forth.
Praise to You to whom all things are easy, for You are almighty.

Your mother's womb has reversed the roles:
the Establisher of all entered into His richness,
but came forth poor; the Exalted one entered her,
but came forth meek; the Splendrous one entered her,
but came forth having put on a lowly hue.
Praise to You to whom all things are easy, for You are almighty.

The Mighty one entered, and put on insecurity
from her womb; the Provisioner of all entered--
and experienced hunger; He who gives drink to all entered--
and experienced thirst; naked and stripped
there came forth from her He who clothes all!
Praise to You to whom all things are easy, for You are almighty.

Spiritual and Religious  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The phrase "I'm spiritual but not religious" has become one of the iconic hip expressions in 21st century America. It can be found in the mouths of a wide spectrum of folks, including but not limited to so-called bookstore Buddhists, Episcopalian Unitarians in drag, and de facto atheists/agnostics who are simply too pooped to get out of bed on Sunday morning. Abbot Andrew is the leader of St Gregory's Abbey, an Anglican community in Three Rivers, Michigan. In the summer 2008 Abbey Letter (the complete text of which can be found by visiting the site) he has a thing or three to say about "spiritual vs religious":

The Latin root for religion, religare, means "to bind". Religious practices live up to this meaning by making connections that bind people with each other and with God. Practices of spirituality are also capable of making these connections, but if spirituality is separated from religion, then whatever good they do for an individual's well-being, any connections they make with other human beings or God are tenuous at best. Basically, a person who is "spiritual but not religious" follows the spiritual quest alone. The extreme of this would be to live by Plotinus' famous phrase: "The alone to the Alone."

A condescending attitude comes across to me in the claim to be spiritual but not religious. It seems to suggest that religion is beneath one who is really spiritual. I'm sure that is not always the case with everyone who says this, but when I look back on my years of adolescence and early adulthood, I have to admit frankly that this sort of snobbishness was a large ingredient of my own outlook...Maybe my perception at the time that religious people usually weren't all that spiritual was true. I do see a lot more vital interest in spirituality in churches today than I remember seeing then, but there is also a real possibility that my snobbish attitude made it harder for me to see the spirituality that really was present in religious people...

A decisive factor that led to my becoming religious as well as spiritual was a dissatisfaction with the eclectic approach. I reached a point where I realized that, in order for my spirituality to be centered, it had to be rooted in a particular religious tradition. My settling on Christianity, however, was not made with the sense that one choice was as good as another. At the time of decision, Christ, who very definitely willed certain things, such as fellowship with me, became very real to me. God's grace and my choice to to give myself freely to the particular Personhood of Christ were so inextricably entwined that there is no way I can separate one from the other. "Particular" is the key word here. The missing ingredient in spirituality without religion is particularity. Before this conversion, it seemed that believing in an impersonal "god", whose manifestation on earth was not limited to one holy person, preserved my individuality. The irony is, that it is the making of particular choices in terms of friends, a community, and God that has enhanced my own particular individuality.

One of the particularities of Christianity is that the Holy Spirit makes spirituality religious by binding people and God together. The Holy Spirit is more than "the bond of love" between the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is a Person who actively brings the Father and the Son together and also actively brings each one of us, in our own particularity, to the Father and the Son and to each other in that same bond of Love. That Holy Spirit inspires us to love everybody, not in general but in particular. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit give us the impossible task of relating personally with billions of people. Rather, the Holy Spirit inspires us to follow Jesus' commandment to love our neighbors. Our neighbors are the particular people who happen to be present in our lives. With the Holy Spirit binding us together with God in this way, there is no room for binding together by way of collective violence. This is how the Holy Spirit makes religion spiritual.

Living spiritually and religiously requires that we face the challenge of living with our own particularity and the particularity of others. We cannot meet this challenge without commitment: commitment to God and commitment to our neighbors. It is easy to be tempted to shrink from this challenge. I had something of a relapse into being more spiritual than religious when I first considered a monastic vocation. I thought I could relate to God and grow spiritually with little reference to to the other members of the community if they weren't enough to my liking. But I learned very quickly that only by committing myself to the particular monks in this place could I grow spiritually. This is why Benedict puts so much emphasis on commitment in his Rule. Benedict has only disapproval for wandering monastics who hop from place to place without ever settling down. Such people are committed neither to God nor to other people. The Benedictine vow of stability of place is precisely a vow of commitment to God and to the particular people in a particular place, and the land and the trees, to say nothing of the cats. This kind of commitment may not sound as spiritual as attaining "cosmic consciousness', but it is by living with particular people who give us daily opportunities to make little sacrifices that we receive clear indications of when we are living in the Bond of Love of the Holy Spirit and when we are not....

It is true that I made a caricature of people who are spiritual but not religious at the beginning of this article. I know that many such people honestly struggle to participate in connections that the Holy Spirit is forging. Likewise, the notion that religious people are not spiritual is a caricature that blinds one to many of the ways the Holy Spirit breathes life into corporate activities. Both caricatures are harmful when they are used to denigrate other people. These caricatures are of some use, however, if they are turned toward ourselves and used as monitors for religious and spiritual growth. Is there real binding in our spirituality? Does the fire of the Holy Spirit breathe through our prayer and our acts of service to others? When the answer to both these questions is Yes, our hearts are inflamed as we walk with Jesus as did the disciples on the Road to Emmaus.