Communion After Baptism  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Many parishes in the Episcopal Church, my own included, allow unbaptized people to receive communion during celebrations of the Eucharist. This practice, commonly known as " Communion without Baptism" (or CWOB for short), is controversial, one reason being that it is forbidden by Episcopal canon law--a law which, however, allows any baptized person regardless of denominational affiliation to receive communion at Episcopal services. This practice is quite lenient compared to the eucharistic discipline of some other bodies. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches restrict communion to their own members only, while the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod notoriously refuses communion even to non-LCMS Lutherans.

Be that as it may, the Episcopal Church canon is too restrictive for many of its members, who see "radical hospitality" as a higher value. Weighing in on the notion that Baptism before communion is not only appropriate but perhaps even crucial is Episcopal priest Matt Gunter. His essay in The living Church should be read in its entirety, because it touches on other important topics besides those excerpted below.


Do we believe that the divine-human drama centers primarily on the individual, or rather on a community? Are we essentially individuals who associate with other individuals, for one reason or another, or are we persons shaped in community, in which case belonging is essential.

...In an American, post-Enlightenment context, shaped by the ideology of individualism, the difference between real community and an association of individuals can be hard to appreciate. Inviting someone to the Eucharist irrespective of "where they are on their spiritual journey" puts the emphasis on the individual rather than on our being members of one another with responsibility for, and accountability to, the whole. The Church cannot counter the ideology of individualism by reinforcing that ideology in its central communal practice.

...In the sacraments the body of Christ "happens". In Baptism a new member of the body is "made" by incorporation. In the Eucharist the body "happens" in several ways. It is the feast by which we remember the life, death, and resurrection of the one whose historical body was broken for us. It is the feast in which the bread and the wine become for us the body and blood of Christ. And it is the feast by which the body of Christ, the Church, is re-membered and its members fed. "In these holy mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members one of another"(American BCP, p 316). Thus, in the well-known Augustinian exhortation: "Behold what you are. Become what you see: the Body of Christ, beloved of God"...And Augustine adds that when we consume the body of Christ in the bread and wine, we do not so much transform that food into our bodies as we are transformed by it into his body.

Participation in the Eucharist is therefore not simply about experiencing God's consolation. It is that, but it is much more. It is part of our conversion process on the way to what the Eastern Christian tradition calls theosis: our being made capable of being "partakers of the divine nature"(2 Peter 2:4), capable of bearing the absolute love, goodness, beauty, and joy of God. We expect to be transfigured, or as Dante would have it, transhumanized into glory.

Monks on Silence  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

A very useful reference is The Monastic Way, edited by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild (Eerdmans, 2006). This is a compendium of brief quotes from monastic writings ranging through the whole of Christian history, arranged as one excerpt for each day of the year. July happens to have some pertinent sayings on the subject of silence. They are found on pp 107-120 of the book.


Aelred Niespolo, OSB

If the word obsculta [listen: first word of the Rule of Benedict] defines the overall action within monastic life, it is also a part of the message offered to a world that does everything it can in order not to listen. Listening takes place within silence, which is not simply a lack of words, but is a 'counter' to the noise of the world. True silence prevents empty words. One can only listen if one can hear. In the otium [leisure] grounded in silence, and in the 'sacred space' of the monastery itself, God not only speaks to the person, but as importantly, the person speaks with God.

Basil the Great

We must try to keep the mind in quietness. For if the eye is constantly shifting its gaze, one moment this way or that, then veering between upwards and down, it cannot see clearly what lies directly in front of it. It has to bring its gaze to bear on this object so as to see it clearly in focus. In the same way a mind distracted by thousands of worldly concerns cannot possibly bring a steady gaze to bear on the truth...Another image: you cannot write on wax tablets unless everything previously written on them has been erased--and the soul cannot receive godly teaching without first clearing out of the way its own preconceived ideas. With this in view a time of withdrawal is of the greatest benefit, as it calms our compulsive passions and gives reason a clear space to cut them down to size.

Joan Chittister, OSB

Those who cringe from silence see it like the plague, fearful of its weight, cautious of its emptiness and the shock that comes with its revelations. The heaviness and emptiness we feared give way very quickly to turmoil and internal pressure for change. Silence enables us to hear the cacaphony inside ourselves. Being alone with ourselves makes for a demanding presence. We find very quickly that either we must change or we shall surely crumble under the weight of our own dissatisfaction with ourselves, under the awareness of what we could be but are not, under the impulse of what we want to be but have failed to become. Under the din is the raw material of the soul.

Peter-Damian Belisle, OSB Cam

Silence is the language spoken by solitude. Perhaps at first reckoning, we might consider silence merely the absence of sound. But silence is not something that begins only when sound ends. There is something awesome and breathtaking about real silence; it is numinous, pulling us out of our self-containment and calling us towards the invisible. Religious seekers 'home in' on silence as homing pigeons return to their roost, because therein lies the language for personal communication with the sacred.

A Carthusian

There is exterior silence and interior silence. The monastery is, or should be, a place of at least relative silence in the sense of the absence of unnecessary noise and agitated movement. We are less assaulted by harsh sounds; rather we are are soothed by the mostly harmonious sounds of nature, and bells and our Gregorian chant. This pacifies our sensibility and refines it. A heightened awareness is a common experience in solitude and affects all the senses, for they are all linked together. In silence we are more vividly aware of colour, and perfume and touch, because we are more present to ourselves. And little by little, we become attuned to the breathing spaces of silence between the sounds, as it were, like an underlying melody, not exactly 'heard', and yet somehow perceived, something that can take the character of a presence.

Silence begets an attitude of listening; a recollected capacity to receive the manifold communications of being through the doors of the senses, which yet go beyond the sensual to become mediators of a communion of our mind and spirit with what is. The artist, the philosopher, the praying person may perceive or, at least, express in different words diverse aspects of this reality, but all have need of silence, receptivity and awareness.

Peter-Damian Belisle, OSB Cam

People are finding less silence in today's societies. They seek out places of refuge and retreat, hoping for the blessing of mere quiet and, perhaps, sheer silence. They go to monasteries and hermitages so they can learn to listen, or listen more attentively. Within monastic walls, silence is maintained so as not to disturb anyone who may be listening to the Word or simply resting the body. But listening is crucial there, and people recognize that fact instinctively. To what are monastics listening in their silence? To the word of God; to their inner-most hearts; to grace at work in the spirit; to what they discern to be truth--ultimate truth. Here is the place where one is ultimately completely naked--stripped of all pretension and illusion--and where one stands truly as one in the presence of God. Here one stands, simply and utterly, in truth.

Litany of St Benedict  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Today being the commemoration of St Benedict of Nursia in the Episcopal Church, I'd like to share a litany to him found on the Prayers to St Benedict website.


Lord, have mercy on us, Christ, have mercy on us.
God the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Pray for us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, Pray for us.
Holy Father, Saint Benedict, Pray for us.
Father most reverend, Pray for us.
Father most renowned, Pray for us.
Father most compassionate, Pray for us.
Man of great fortitude, Pray for us.
Man of venerable life, Pray for us.
Man of the most holy conversation, Pray for us.
True servant of God, Pray for us.
Light of devotion, Pray for us.
Light of prayer, Pray for us.
Light of contemplation, Pray for us.
Star of the world, Pray for us.
Best master of an austere life, Pray for us.
Leader of the holy warfare, Pray for us.
Leader and chief of monks, Pray for us.
Master of those who die to the world, Pray for us.
Protector of those who cry to Thee, Pray for us.
Wonderful maker of miracles, Pray for us.
Revealer of the secrets of the human heart, Pray for us.
Master of spiritual discipline, Pray for us.
Companion of the patriarchs, Pray for us.
Equal of the prophets, Pray for us.
Follower of the Apostles, Pray for us.
Teacher of martyrs, Pray for us.
Father of many pontiffs, Pray for us.
Gem of abbots, Pray for us.
Glory of confessors, Pray for us.
Imitator of anchorites, Pray for us.
Associate of virgins, Pray for us.
Colleague of all the saints, Pray for us.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.

V. Intercede for us, O holy father St Benedict,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: O God, Who hast called us from the vanity of the world, and Who dost incite us to the reward of a heavenly vocation under the guidance of our holy patriarch and founder, St Benedict, inspire and purify our hearts and pour forth on us Thy grace, whereby we may persevere in Thee. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen.

Theology Isn't a Head Trip  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Macrina Walker's excellent site A Vow of Conversation (blogrolled here under "Favorite Links" in the sidebar) partially transcribes a lecture by Notre Dame University professor David Fagerberg in which he rather forcefully differentiates between Western theology and that of the Eastern Churches (click here for the audio version). Fagerberg refers to Fr Alexander Schmemann, a prominent 20th-century Orthodox theologian. The words in bold type were stressed by me.


The West tends to think of theology as a mental activity. Probably this is because the people to whom the West gives the name theologian live in the academy...The only reason for calling these people theologians is because of what they think about. Worship is taken to be either an expression of belief, or an instrument for the creation of belief. And only if that believing requires a tune-up clarification does theology enter the picture. Liturgy is a place to stage the theological content we have deduced and believe. But theology's origin is not in liturgy, it is in texts and its output is more texts for the next generation of theologians to critique and surpass...

[Quoting Schmemann]: "I am convinced that if people would really hear Holy Week, Pascha, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the Dormition, there would be no need for theology. All of theology is here. All that is needed for one's spirit, heart, mind and soul. How could people spend centuries discussing justification and redemption? It's all in these services. Not only is it revealed, it simply flows in one's heart and mind."

I think it would be wrong to use this as a brush to paint Schmemann or Orthodoxy as anti-intellectual. Instead, there are two things going on here. First, Schmemann is identifying theology's home, its native habitat. Theology is more a vision than a cognition. Schmemann is not opposed to theological discussion; he is opposed to letting theological discussion ever break free from a vision of the Trinity in action.

The second thing going on in this quotation is the connection of theology with theosis. The beginning of theology is not the card catalogue, but doing battle with the passions. And the end of theology is not becoming a professor, but becoming a saint.