Leo the Great on the Nativity  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Leo the Great (ca 400-461, pope from 440) is best known for dissuading Attila the Hun from sacking Rome.  Theologically he is much more significant for having authored the Tome of Leo, a tract that influenced the outcome of the Council of Chalcedon. 

Since we are still very much in the Christmas season, it's appropriate to read a bit of one of his Nativity sermons.  The citation is Sermo 1 in Nativitate Domini, 1-3:  PL 54, 190-193.


Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice.  Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life.  The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. 

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing.  Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all.  Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand.  Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness.  Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life. 

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God's wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator.  He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind...

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God's own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition.  Bear in mind who is your head and and of whose body you are a member.  Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom.

Theotokos of Guadalupe  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us that her veneration is not restricted to Mexican Roman Catholics.  Replicas of her image can now be seen throughout the United States, both in predominantly Anglo Catholic parishes and in non-Catholic (especially Episcopal) churches. 

Mexico is not a culturally homogeneous nation, and its religious mosaic includes a number of Eastern Orthodox Christians.   Their liturgy includes an akathist--a long hymn--honoring the Virgin, or the Theotokos (God-Bearer), as she is often referred to by Eastern Christians.  Part of this is reproduced below; click here for the full text.  I also include a video showing scenes from Mexican Orthodox life.


From the Akathist to Our Lady of Guadalupe

The peoples of Mesoamerica saw a most Divine Light when they gazed upon Thy sacred and miraculous image inscribed by the Finger of God upon the tilma of Juan Diego.  They recognized in  it their salvation at last and liberation from the darkness of enslavement to the cunning Serpent of old and they cried with grateful love amidst tears:
Rejoice, Most Immaculate Messenger from on High!
Rejoice, Great Sign that appeared in Heaven and in our midst!
Rejoice, Woman shining with the Brightness of Thy Son and our Lord!
Rejoice, Lady crushing the Serpent of old beneath thy feet!
Rejoice, Victor over evil!
Rejoice, Queen of Heaven and Earth!
Rejoice, unfailing Intercessor for those lost in darkness!
Rejoice, Star of the Sea bringing us to the harbor of safety!
Rejoice, Defender of children!
Rejoice, Protector of such as are of the Kingdom of Heaven!
Rejoice, Standing with the moon at Thy feet!
Rejoice, with hands enfolded in prayer to God on our behalf!
Rejoice, O Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother clothed with the Sun!

Merton and Theoria Physike  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For today's commemoration of Thomas Merton, we look at how he engaged with the thought of St Maximos the Confessor.  This can be found in his lecture notes for a course in ascetic theology given to the novices of Gethsemani Abbey, Merton's monastic community.  The excerpt deals with how Maximos addresses theoria physike, a stage in the contemplative journey in which the practitioner makes an effort to sense the divine presence in the created universe.  It is found in Merton and Hesychasm, Bernadette Dieker and Jonathan Montaldo, eds., Fons Vitae, 2003, pp 434-435.


Theoria physike is then:
a) Reception of the mysterious, silent revelation of God in His cosmos and in its oikonomia [stewardship of all things, the structure of God's dispensation of the cosmos, God's providence and judgement], as well as in our own lives. 

b) It is the knowledge of God that is natural to man, with God's help (grace).  But note it is not "natural" in the modern sense, [that is], clearly distinct from and opposed to "supernatural".  It is natural in the sense that it is what God intended for man in creating him.  It is proper to him as a son of God, was his when in paradise, is proper to him as a brother of the angels.  We must be restored first of all to this "natural" contemplation of the cosmos before we can rise to perfect theologia.

c)  This contemplation is demanded by the cosmos itself and by history.  If man cannot know creatures by this spiritual gnosis, they will be frustrated by their end.  If man cannot spiritually penetrate the meaning of the oikonomia, it runs the risk of being frustrated and souls will be lost.

d) Hence theoria physike is a most important part of man's cooperation in the spiritualization and restoration of the cosmos.  It is by theoria that man helps Christ to redeem the logoi of things and restore them in Himself.

e) This theoria is inseparable from love and from a truly spiritual conduct of life.  Man not only must see the inner meaning of things, but he must regulate his entire life and his use of time and of created beings according to the mysterious norms hidden in things by the Creator, or rather uttered by the Creator Himself in the bosom of His Creation.

f) The vision of theoria physike is essentially sophianic.  Man by theoria is able to untie the hidden wisdom of God in things with the hidden light of wisdom in himself.  The meeting and marriage of these two brings about a resplendent clarity within man himself, and this clarity is the presence of Divine Wisdom fully recognized and active in him.  Thus man becomes a mirror of the divine glory, and is resplendent with divine truth not only in his mind but in his life.  He is filled with the light of wisdom which shines forth in him, and thus God is glorified in him.  At the same time he exercises a spiritualizing influence in the world by the work of his hands which is in accord with the creative wisdom of God in things and in history.

Akathist of Thanksgiving  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For today's Thanksgiving holiday we have a recording of the  Akathist of Thanksgiving.  An akathist is a long Orthodox hymn.  It consists of thirteen parts, each made up of a kontakion followed by an ikos.  These are varieties of Orthodox hymnody.  The text of the Akathist of Thanksgiving was written by Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov, a Russian Orthodox priest who died in 1940 after being swept up into one of Stalin's gulags.  The text can be found here.


Mythology and Theosis in CS Lewis  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of CS Lewis, we have an excerpt from Chris Jensen's fascinating article "Shine as the Sun:  CS Lewis and the Doctrine of Deification", which appeared in Road to Emmaus (8:2; #29).  Click here to access the complete essay. 


Deification, then, is bound up with Lewis' abiding appreciation of myth and poetry.  Although Lewis' love for myth is most often remembered in terms of how he saw pagan myths prefiguring the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (eg. Balder, Adonis, or Bacchus, the myths which later became "fact" in the Second Person of the Trinity), it's equally true that Lewis saw in mythology a type of our resurrected life as well.  Human participation in God, Lewis says, is something that the poets and the mythologies know all about.  In "The Weight of Glory", we are told that one of the reasons Lewis placed such high value on myth and poetry was because he saw in them an intimation of our divine destiny.  In the lovely falsehoods told in countless stories and poems, humans get married to gods, or west winds blow right into human souls.  These may be false as history, but they may be quite near the truth as prophecy insofar as one day humans may pass beyond nature into the source of beauty and power itself, eating at the tree of life and drinking from the fountain of joy.

William Temple on Sacraments  

Posted by Joe Rawls

William Temple (1881-1944) was the son of Archbishop of Canterbury Frederick Temple.  He held his father's position for the last two years of his life.  Before that, he had a most distinguished career in academia and the Church of England.  After  taking a first-class degree from Balliol College, Oxford, he held a fellowship at that university and was ordained before being named headmaster of Repton.  From there he was successively Bishop of Manchester, Archbishop of York, and Archbishop of Canterbury. 

He is perhaps best known for his work in social reform and ecumenism, but he was also one of the leading Anglican theologians of the twentieth century.  This is clearly seen in Nature, Man, and God, the Gifford Lectures delivered from 1932 to 1934.  Lecture XIX:  The Sacramental Universe expresses quite well his "high" view of the sacraments. 


Now a sacrament, as understood by those who prize sacraments most highly, is an instance of a very definitive and special relationship of spirit and matter.  We have already distinguished it from mere conventional symbolism such as we find in ordinary speech or (more accurately) in nomenclature.  We have also pointed to the less marked distinction which separates it from the essential symbolism of poetry.  It is a spiritual utilization of a material object whereby a spiritual result is effected.  Its operation is not independent of symbolism or or of the psychological processes set in motion by symbols; but its operation and effectiveness does not consist in these.  Indeed many of those who set special store by the sacramental mode of worship value it because of their belief that the efficacy of the sacramental rite is totally independent of any conscious apprehension or other form of spiritual experience at that time.  When faith exists as a struggle to believe in spite of empirical and temperamental pressure to unbelief, when the whole life of feeling is dead, when nothing is left but stark loyalty to God as He is dimly and waveringly apprehended to be--then the sheer objectivity, even the express materialism, of a sacrament gives it a value that nothing else can have.  And when faith revives its ardour, and feeling is once more aglow, when the activity of prayers spoken and praises sung is again a natural expression of devotion, the rite which is believed to have retained its efficacy when all else failed becomes a focus of grateful adoration to the God who therein offered grace--that is, His love in action--to a soul that could receive Him in no other way.  All turns, of course, on the conviction that in the sacrament God acts, fulfilling His own promise.  This distinguishes the sacrament from magic, of which the essence is that man through the rite puts compulsion on the god, while it also endows the sacrament with the virtue and potency which magic falsely claims to offer.

Patriarch Bartholomew on the Environment  

Posted by Joe Rawls

His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch and worldwide leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, speaks out frequently on ecological issues, pointing out the connections between the environment and Christian theology.  He has in fact been nicknamed the "Green Patriarch" for his outspoken pronouncements on this issue.  An example is found in his article "The World as Sacrament of Creation", a few paragraphs of which
are reproduced below.  Click here for the complete essay. 


...It is unfortunate that we lead our life without noticing the environmental concert that is playing out before our eyes and ears.  In this orchestra, each minute detail plays a critical role.  Nothing can be removed without the entire symphony being affected.  No tree, animal or fish can be removed without the entire picture being distorted, if not destroyed...

...In order to achieve this sacramental vision of creation, human beings are called to practice a spirituality of thanksgiving and self-discipline.  In theological terms, we are called to be "eucharistic" and "ascetic" beings.  In theis way, the Orthodox Church reminds us that creation is not simply our possession or property, but rather a gift from God the Creator, a gift of wonder and beauty.  From the moment of creation, this world was offered by God as a gift to be returned in gratitude and love.

This is precisely how the Orthodox spiritual way avoids the problem of the world's domination by humanity.  For if this world is a sacred mystery, then this in itself precludes any attempt at mastery by human beings.  Indeed, the mastery or exploitative control of the world's resources is identified more with Adam's "original sin" than with God's wonderful gift.  It is the result of selfishness and greed, which arise from alienation from God and an abandonment of the sacramental worldview.  Sin separated the sacred from the secular, dismissing the latter to the domain of evil and surrendering it as prey to exploitation.

Beyond a "eucharistic" spirituality, we are also called to practice an "ascetic ethos," namely self-restraint and self-control, so that we no longer willfully consume every fruit, but instead manifest a sense of frugality from some things for the sake of valuing all things.  Then, we shall learn to care for plants and animals, for trees and rivers, for mountains and seas, for all human beings and the world.  Then, we shall be instruments of peace and life, not tools of violence and death.  Then, everything will assume its divine purpose, as God originally intended the world.

...If the earth is sacred, then our relationship with the natural environment is sacramental.  The "sin of Adam" is precisely his refusal to receive the world as a gift of communion with God and with the rest of creation.  St Paul clearly emphasizes the consequences of the Fall, claiming that "from the beginning till now, the entire creation, which as we know has been groaning in pain" (Rom 8:22), also "waits with eager longing this revelation by the children of God." (Rom 8:19)

However, far too long have we focused--as churches and as theologians--on the notion of sin as a rupture in individual relations with each other or with God.  The environmental crisis reminds us of the cosmic consequences of sin, which are more than merely social or narrowly spiritual.  Every act of pollution is an offense against God as creator.  Repentance implies a radical change of ways and worldview.  Some fifteen years ago, at a conference in Santa Barbara, we declared:

To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin.  To cause species to become extinct and destroy the biological diversity of God's creation; to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing climate change; to strip the earth of its natural forests or destroy its wetlands; to contaminate the earth's waters--all of these are sins.

Society for Eastern Rite Anglicanism  

Posted by Joe Rawls

A little over a month ago, on Holy Cross day, a  new Anglican organization called the Society for Eastern Rite Anglicanism (SERA) was officially launched.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many people besides me are interested in incorporating Eastern Orthodox spirituality and liturgy into the Anglican tradition.  The brainchild of Fr Justin Cannon of St Giles church in Moraga (Episcopal Diocese of California), SERA's goal is the eventual establishment of a network of worship communities using Eastern Christian liturgies, as well as support for individuals interested in Orthodox forms of contemplative prayer.  I encourage all my readers to check it out.  A link to SERA's website has been included in the "Anglicans" section of the outer sidebar. 

SERA also maintains a very active Facebook page.

Poems of Teresa of Avila  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For Teresa's feast day I share four of her poems.  Some others--in English translation--can be found here


Laughter came from every brick
Just these two words He spoke
changed my life.
"Enjoy Me."
What a burden I thought I was to carry--
a crucifix, as did He.
Love once said to me, "I know a song,
would you like to hear it?"
And laughter came from every brick in the street
and from every pore
in the sky.
After a night of prayer, He
changed my life when
He sang,
"Enjoy Me."

I would cease to be
God dissolved my mind--my separation.
I cannot describe my intimacy with Him.
How dependent is your body's life on water and food and air?
I said to God, "I will always be unless you cease to Be."
And my Beloved replies, "And I
would cease to Be
if you died."

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

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 his people now.

John Wesley on Universal Restoration  

Posted by Joe Rawls

John Wesley (1703-1791), priest of the Church of England and founder of Methodism,  had a wide-ranging theological imagination.  A classical scholar, he was steeped in the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers.  His notion of "sanctification" is virtually identical with the Eastern Christian concept of theosis.  Another shared interest with the East concerns eschatology, the branch of theology dealing with the end of the present space-time continuum and the start of "the life of the world to come."  Wesley clearly believed that at the eschaton not only human beings would be resurrected.  The entire physical cosmos, including animals and plants, would also be restored in some sense.  A key scriptural text alluding to this is Romans 8: 19-21:  "Indeed, the whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God.  Creation was made subject to futility not of its own accord but by him who once subjected it; yet not without hope, because the world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God." 

Wesley expanded on this and other biblical texts in a sermon excerpted in The Christian Theology Reader, Alister E McGrath ed, second edition, Blackwell 2001, pp 630-631.


But will "the creature", will even the brute creation, always remain in this deplorable condition?  God forbid that we should affirm this; yea, or even entertain such a thought.  While "the whole creation groaneth together" (whether men attend or not), their groans are not dispersed in idle air, but enter the ears of Him that made them.  While His creatures "travail together in pain," he knoweth all their pain, and is bringing them nearer and nearer to the birth, which shall be accomplished in its season.  He seeth the "earnest expectation" wherewith the whole animated creation "waiteth for" that final "manifestation of the sons of God," in which "they themselves also shall be delivered" (not by annihilation; annihilation is not deliverance) "from the present bondage of corruption into" a measure of " the glorious liberty of the children of God"...

A general view of this is given us in the twenty first chapter of the Revelation.  When He that "sitteth on the great white throne" hath pronounced "Behold, I make all things new", when the word is fulfilled, "the tebernacle of God is with men, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God"--then the following blessing shall take place (not only on the children of men; there is no such restriction in the text; but) on every creature according to its capacity....

To descend to a few particulars.  The whole brute creation will then, undoubtedly, be restored, not only to the vigour, strength, and swiftness which they had at their creation, but to a far higher degree of each than they ever enjoyed.  They will be restored, not only to that measure of understanding which they had in paradise, but to a degree of it as much higher than that, as the understanding of an elephant is beyond that of a worm.  And whatever affections they had in the garden of God, will be restored with vast increase; being exalted and refined in a manner which we ourselves are not able to comprehend.  The liberty they then had will be completely restored, and they will be free in all their motions.  They will be delivered from all irregular appetites, from all unruly passions, from every disposition that is either evil in itself, or has any tendency to evil.  No rage will be found in any creature, no fierceness, no cruelty, or thirst for blood.  So far from it that "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the young lion together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like an ox.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Isaiah 11: 6-7)....

But though I doubt not that the Father of All has a tender regard for even his lowest creatures, and that, in consequence of this, he will make them large amends for all they suffer while under their present bondage; yet I dare not affirm that he has an equal regard for them and for the children of men.

Patristic Numerology in Maximos the Confessor  

Posted by Joe Rawls

  Maximos (580-662) was born to an aristocratic family in Constantinople.  He became a monk after serving as Imperial Secretary.  He became an outspoken opponent of Monotheletism, a heresy which asserted that Jesus had only one will, instead of both human and divine wills.  He supported the Western Church on this issue and said, "I have the faith of the Latins, but the language of the Greeks."  Maximos earned the title "Confessor" when he fell afoul of the emperor Constans II, who favored Monotheletism.  The emperor ordered Maximos's tongue cut out and his right hand cut off.  He was then exiled to the Caucasus and died soon after.

He left behind a large body of spiritual and theological writings.  Selections from his works make up the largest single part of the Philokalia.  A short but interesting sample is reproduced below.  It discusses the spiritual meaning of various numbers associated with the person of Jesus.  Numerology frequently occurs in ancient and patristic writers and goes back at least as far as Pythagoras.

The excerpt is from vol 2 of The Philokalia  (tr and ed by GEH Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware), p 130.


The Lord appeared when He was thirty years old, and with this number secretly teaches those with discernment the mysteries relating to Himself.  For, mystically understood, the number thirty presents the Lord as the Creator and provident ruler of time, nature, and the intelligible realities that lie beyond visible nature.  The number seven signifies that He is the Creator of time, for time has a sevenfold character.  The number five signifies that He is the Creator of nature, for nature has a fivefold character because of the fivefold division of the senses.  The number eight signifies that He is the Creator of intelligible realities, for intelligible realities come into being outside the cycle that is measured by time.  And the number ten signifies that He is the provident ruler, because it is the ten holy commandments that lead men towards perfection, and also because the symbol for ten [in Greek] is the first letter of the name taken by the Lord when He became man.  By adding up five, seven, eight and ten you obtain the number thirty.  Thus he who truly knows how to follow the Lord as his master will understand why, should he attain the age of thirty, he will also be empowered to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom.  For when through his ascetic practice he has irreproachably created the world of the virtues as if it were a world of visible nature, not allowing his soul to be diverted from its course by the hostile powers as he passes through time; and when he unerringly gathers spiritual knowledge through contemplation, and is providentially able to engender the same state in others, then he himself, whatever his physical age, is thirty years old in spirit and makes manifest in others the power of the blessings which he himself possesses.      

St Sergius of Radonezh  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Sergius of Radonezh was born ca 1314.  At an early age he and his brother founded a hermitage in a remote area northeast of Moscow.  His brother could not tolerate the rigors of the eremitic life and soon left.  Sergius lived by himself for several years, with only the local wolves and bears for companionship.  He was not a learned man but he developed a reputation for holiness and gradually attracted a small group of followers.  This little community eventually evolved into the great monastery of Holy Trinity-St Sergius.  A settlement just outside the monastery gates became the town of Sergiev Posad, renamed Zagorsk during the Soviet era.  The monastery is variously known by all these names.  Sergius became a major figure in Russian life since Holy Trinity founded many other monasteries and because he was a supporter of Prince Dimitri Donskoi, whose defeat of the Tatars in 1380 contributed to the establishment of the Russian state.  Sergius reposed on this date in 1392. 


Hildegard of Bingen's Musical Style  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Benedictine abbess, polymath, theologian, musician, and several other things, is probably most accessible to contemporary people through her numerous musical compositions.  On today's feast day we look at an article on her musical style by Nancy Fierro, professor of music at Mt St Mary's College in Los Angeles.  I've also included a representative video of her music. 


Hildegard was a very expressive person.  She loved beautiful clothing, exquisite sounds, fragrant scents, and bright-colored gems.  As a composer, she expressed herself intensely both in the sound and in the words of her music.  The following are some musical features we can find in her compositions.  The style characteristics listed stem from my own observations and from the thoughtful analysis of musicologist Marianne Pfau.

In contrast to the narrow scope of most chants in her day, Hildegard's music has a very wide range.  She uses extremes of register as if to bring heaven and earth together.  According to Pfau, by adding and omitting pitches and pitch groups in repetitions of melodic phrases, Hildegard stretches and contracts melodic phrases to create the "soaring arches" that we are familiar with in her music.

Plainchant usually never employed intervals larger than a second or third.  Hildegard's music vaults upward and downward with wide intervals of fifths and fourths.  She traverses up and down the octave scale with as much ease as she moved between the mystical world and the world of mundane affairs.

Unlike the Romanesque curves of most plainchant melodies, Hildegard's melodies are more angular.  Often we hear rapid ascents in melodies with a slow falling decline.  The heights of her songs are like the spires of Gothic cathedrals shooting upwards in the sky.

Dramatic Flourishes
Hildegard's chants contrast neumatic and melismatic passages.  Neumatic passages are organized with two or three notes per syllable.  Melismatic passages use three or more notes per syllable...Combined with an ascending passage at the end of the piece, Hildegard uses melismas to anticipate the joy we will experience in arriving at our final celestial destiny.

The First Chinese Christians  

Posted by Joe Rawls

  The first Christian missionaries in China were not the 16th-century Jesuits or the 19th-century Protestants.  They were preceded--by over a millenium--by monks of the Church of the East, commonly but erroneously known as the Nestorian church.  Traveling from the Near East over the Silk Road, a monk named Alopen and several companions reached Tang China in the year 630.  They were able to grow a substantial church, one which gained the admiration of the emperor and which flourished for several centuries.  Christianity became known in Chinese as the Luminous Religion of Daquin (the Roman Empire).  There was significant interaction with indigenous Chinese religions, especially Taoism. 

This is reflected in the text of the so-called Nestorian Stele.  Erected in 781, it was written by Jingjing, a monk whose Syriac name was Adam.  The text is in both Chinese and Syriac and contains information about the structure of the Church of the East in China and its teachings.  The  excerpt below is found in Not of This World:  A Treasury of Christian Mysticism, James S Cutsinger, ed, World Wisdom 2003, pp126-127.


In the beginning was the natural constant, the true stillness of the Origin, and the primordial void of the Most High.  The Spirit of the void emerged as the Most High Lord, moving in mysterious ways to enlighten the holy ones.  He is Ye Su, my True Lord of the Void, who embodies the three subtle and wondrous bodies, and who was condemned to the cross so that the people of the four directions might be saved.

He beat up the primordial winds, and the two vapors were created.  He differentiated the gray emptiness and opened up the sky and the earth.  He set the sun and moon on their course, and day and night came into being.  He crafted the myriad things and created the first people.  He gave to them the original nature of goodness and appointed them as guardians of all creation.  Their minds were empty, they were content, and their hearts were simple and innocent.  Originally they had no desire, but under the influence of Satan, they abandoned their pure and simple goodness for the glitter and the gold.  Falling into the trap of death and lies, they became embroiled in the threee hundred and sixty-five forms of sin.  In doing so, they have woven the web of retribution and have bound themselves inside it.  Some believe in the material origin of things, some have sunk into chaotic ways, some think that they can receive blessings simply by reciting prayers, and some have abandoned kindness for treachery.  Despite their intelligence and their passionate pleas, they have gone nowhere.  Forced into the overturning wheel of fire, they are burned and obliterated.  Having lost their way for eons, they can no longer return.

Therefore my Lord Ye Su, the One emanating in three subtle bodies, hid His true power, became a human, and came on behalf of the Lord of Heaven to preach the good teachings.  A Virgin gave birth to the Sacred in a dwelling in the Western Empire.  The message was given to the Persians, who saw and followed the bright light to offer Him gifts.  The twenty-four holy ones have given us the teachings, and Heaven has decreed that the new religion of the Three-in-One Purity that cannot be spoken of should now be proclaimed.  These teachings can restore goodness to sincere believers, deliver those living within the boundaries of the eight territories, refine the dust and transform it into truth, reveal the gate of the three constants, lead us to life, and destroy death.  The teachings of the Religion of Light are like the resplendent sun:  they have the power to dissolve the dark realm and destroy evil forever.

The Lord set afloat the raft of salvation and compassion so that we might use it to ascend to the palace of light and be united with the Spirit.  He carried out the work of deliverance, and when the task was completed, He ascended to immortality in broad daylight.  He left twenty-seven books of scriptures to inspire our spirit, He revealed the workings of the Origin, and He gave to us the method of purification by water.  Thus we purify our hearts and return to the simple and natural Way of the truth.  This truth cannot be named, but its power surpasses all expectations.  When forced to give it a name, we call it the Religion of Light.  As with the Way, that which is sacred is not sacred unless it is highly sacred, and that which is the Way is not the Way unless it is the Great Way.

Gregory Palamas on the Transfiguration  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today's feast of the Transfiguration, somewhat ignored by the Western churches, is of paramount importance in the Orthodox and Oriental churches.  This is because it is closely related to the doctrine of theosis, which lies at the heart of Eastern Christian spirituality.  On Mt Tabor, Jesus manifested the Uncreated Light, which Orthodox spiritual teachers maintain is God's divinity made visible to human eyes.  The Uncreated Light can also be manifested by Christians who have made substantial progress along the path to deification.  Probably the best-known example of this is St Seraphim of Sarov, the 19th-century starets whose illumination was described by his disciple Motovilov.

The significance of the Light during the actual Transfiguration is described in a sermon excerpted below by St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359).  Palamas, a monk of Mt Athos, defended the Athonite tradition of hesychasm against Barlaam of Calabria, a Greek from southern Italy whose theology was influenced by Roman Catholic scholasticism.  Barlaam held that the light experienced by Palamas and his brother monks was a created thing, if indeed it was not a product of self-delusion.  After a series of fiercely-contested theological debates, the Orthodox Church agreed with Palamas, and his opinions became part of official Orthodox teaching.  Palamas eventually became Archbishop of Thessalonica, where he delivered the following sermon. 


Thus, the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord  is not something that comes to be and then vanishes, nor is it subject to the sensory faculties, although it was contemplated by corporeal eyes for a short while upon an unconsequential mountaintop.  But the initiates of the mystery, the disciples of the Lord, at this time passed beyond mere flesh into spirit through a transformation of their senses, effectualized within them by the Spirit, and in such a way that they beheld what, and to what extent, the Divine Spirit had wrought blessedness in them to behold the Ineffable Light...

...That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when the Lord was praying.  This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occurred and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God.  True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind.  To gaze upon its luminance assumes a sort of participation in it, as though some bright ray etches itself upon the face...

...We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior.  This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine.  So also, in the teachings of the Fathers, Jesus Christ was transfigured on the Mount, not taking upon Himself something new nor being changed into something new, nor something which formerly He did not possess.  Rather, it was to show His disciples that which He already was, opening their eyes and bringing them from blindness to sight...

...Thus, this Light is not a light of the senses, and those contemplating it do not simply see with sensual eyes, but rather they are changed by the power of the Divine spirit.  They were transformed, and only in this way did they see the transformation taking place amidst the very assumption of our perishability, with the deification through union with the Word of God in place of this.

Patristic Psychotherapy  

Posted by Joe Rawls

It is generally accepted that there is a degree of overlap between spiritual direction and psychotherapy, even while directors are strongly admonished in their training to refer directees to psychiatrists or psychologists when warranted.  Western psychotherapies, for the most part, are rooted in secularist presuppositions about how the world works.  They are not necessarily hostile towards religion, but enhancing one's relationship with the Divine is not a key point in the psychotherapeutic agenda.  Early in his career Freud remarked that "...much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness" (Studies in Hysteria). 

Recently, attention has been given to the therapeutic overtones found in Eastern Orthodox spiritual direction, especially as exemplified in that great compendium of Orthodox teaching, the Philokalia.  Christopher CH Cook's essay "Healing, Psychotherapy, and the Philokalia", excerpted below, may be found in Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif, eds, The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality (Oxford 2012), an invaluable guide to the Philokalia and its underlying theological and ascetical foundations. 


If the Philokalia presents a school of therapy for the soul, designed to bring about its healing, it might well be argued that the Philokalia is a kind of manual for psychotherapy.  However, once the word "psychotherapy" is used, with all its more modern connotations of Freudian and post-Freudian therapies designed to explore the unconscious, and of the cognitive-behavioral therapies based on cognitive and behavioral scientific psychology, we realize at once how the Philokalia is both similar to and radically different from what we now call, in the Western world, psychotherapy.

On the one hand, the Philokalia shares with contemporary psychotherapies a concern with "inwardness" and with self-reflective awareness, a suspicion about the motives that lay behind apparently innocent or well-intentioned actions, and a keen attention to the content and processes of cognition.  Even some of the methods look very similar--especially those that betray a Stoic model of the passions (or in the case of contemporary psychology the emotions) as being fundamentally based upon thoughts (or cognition).  For example, the identification of thoughts/judgements that lead to fear might be a concern of both the cognitive therapist and the disciple of the Philokalia, remembrance of death is also effectively a cognitive strategy for changing patterns of thought, and ascetic discipline might be considered a kind of behavioral therapy orientated toward changing patterns of thought as well as lifestyle.  Even the philokalic injunctions to obedience and submission to an elder or spiritual guide find their parallels in the therapeutic relationship with a therapist, who is seen as having greater wisdom, knowledge, and experience in matters of the inner life. 

On the other hand, contemporary psychotherapies are based on very different theoretical frameworks and aim at very different ends.  While differences in theory might be surprisingly more superficial than they first appear, there are undoubtedly important differences.  The Freudian tripartite model of the psyche as comprising id, ego, and superego, for example, is not so very different from the Platonic model of appetitive, incensive, and rational parts of the soul, a model which influenced both Freud and the authors of the Philokalia.  Or again, both the cognitive therapist and the authors of the Philokalia emphasize the importance of a self-reflective awareness of thought processes which will lead to greater understanding of how to identify aberrant patterns of thought and develop healthy ones.  The scientific rationalism of the cognitive therapist is not necessarily so far removed from the philosophical and contemplative reasoning of the philokalic practitioner when consideration is limited only to matters of cognitive analysis.  But when consideration is broadened to include ultimate concerns, the atheistic assumptions of Freud and the cognitive-behaviorists contrast strongly with the philokalic world of personal spiritual forces which draw the human creature inevitably toward, or away from, a telos which is firmly located in the Divine.  Moreover, the end of human beings in relationship with God involves the authors of the Philokalia in a contemplative "unknowing" which ultimately transcends human rational thought.  this transcendence is completely lacking, at least from Freud and the more scientific cognitive-behavioral schools of therapy, if not from all of the schools of therapy which have emerged since the work of pioneers such as Freud, Skinner, and Ellis.

Liturgy and the Trinity  

Posted by Joe Rawls

 As Christians, when we think at all of how the sacraments "work", we tend to have more or less vague notions that they somehow connect us to Jesus.  However, Jesus is part of a Trinitarian God, and the efficacy of sacraments means that they connect us to the Father, through the risen Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  

For today's celebration of Trinity Sunday, we look at some insights into how the liturgy expresses Trinitarian theology.  They are contained in an essay by Roman Catholic theologian Susan K Wood.  It is found in the excellent reference The Cambridge Guide to the Trinity, Peter C Phan, ed, Cambridge University Press, 2011.  The excerpt below is found on pp 383-384. 


The movement of God's saving action and our response are related to two essential liturgical elements, anamnesis and epiclesis.  Anamnesis, translated as "memorial", "commemoration," or "remembrance", actually has the much stronger meaning of making present an event or person from the past.  Anamnesis asks God to remember his saving work in Jesus Christ in order that the benefits of Christ's sacrifice may be made present to the faithful here and now.   These deeds are actually made present in the liturgy in the anamnesis, not as a repetition of his saving deeds or as a mere recollection of them, but as an actualization of them within the modality of sacramental sign.   The anamnesis is accomplished through the work of the Spirit, who "awakens the memory of the Church then inspires thanksgiving and praise." 

The epiclesis is a calling on the Spirit to transform the material of creation and make it salvific in its sacramental use.  Sacraments are effective because they are Christ's action, made present through the power of the Spirit.  Although we may think of the epiclesis primarily in terms of the Eucharist, most of the sacraments, as we shall see, have an epicletic moment.  The Holy Spirit brings us into communion with Christ, effects our spiritual transformation into the image of Christ, both individually and corporately, and constitutes Christ's eccesial body, the corpus mysticum.  Thus the Spirit is the bond of unity in the church and the source of empowerment for service and mission. 

The Father as the source and end of all blessings of creation and salvation is the source and goal of the liturgy, which reveals and communicates the divine blessing.  We receive these blessings through the incarnate Word of the Father, who, in turn, pours out the gift of the Spirit.  The liturgy offers adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to the Father by offering to the Father his own gifts, especially the gift of his Son.  The Spirit "recalls and makes Christ manifest to the faith of the assembly", "makes Christ present here and now", and "unites the Church to the life and mission of Christ". 

The end or purpose of all the sacraments is reconciliation with the Father and the Father's glorification (Eph 1:12; 2 Cor 3: 18, Jn 17).  The Latin word for sacrament, sacramentum, is a translation of the Greek word mysterion, which refers to God's plan for salvation (Col 1: 26-27).  This plan is the Father's plan "to reconcile to himself all things through Christ, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, who made peace through the blood of his cross" (Col 1: 19-20).  The paschal mystery is the keystone of the Christian mystery.  All the liturgical feasts and sacraments are referenced to the event of Christ's dying and rising and to this great pattern of reconciliation with the Father through Christ in the power of the Spirit.  Thus the liturgical year is not simply a memesis or imitation of Christ's life.  Christmas is primarily about God's Word becoming flesh and dwelling among human beings in order to bring salvation.  Sacraments are not just seven anthropological markers of lifetime passages such as birth, puberty, sickness, and marriage, but relate to the two fundamental sacraments, baptism and Eucharist, in their functions of reconciliation and building up the church as a messianic saving community.  Sacraments give access to participation in this plan of salvation, anamnesis (memorial) and epiclesis being essential to each of them.  Anamnesis recalls the saving event of Jesus' death and resurrection so that it is actually present today, and epiclesis makes it effective through the power of the Spirit.  As Louis-Marie Chauvet has noted, "the sacraments appear not as the somehow static prolongations of the incarnation as such but as the major expression, in our own history, of the embodiment (historical/eschatological) of the risen One in the world through the Spirit, embodiment whose 'fundamental sacrament' is the church visibly born at Pentecost." 

Litany of the Holy Spirit  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Aside from Pentecostals, many Christians tend to ignore the Holy Spirit.  And this is not a new phenomenon, since an orthodox doctrine of the Spirit was not fully developed until the late 4th century, clearing the way for a firm articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.  English Anglican theologian Alister McGrath has, in fact, referred to the Holy Spirit as "the Cinderella of the Trinity". 

A prayerful solution to this oversight, offered in advance of the upcoming Pentecost Sunday, is the following Litany of the Holy Spirit, the effort of Episcopal priest Michael Marsh.   It appears on his estimable site Interrupting the Silence.


O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Spirit, intercede for us with sighs too deep for words,
Pray for us.

Spirit, intercede for the saints according to the will of God,
Pray for us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us.

Blessed N. patron of our parish,
Pray for us.

Holy Spirit, who is equal to the Father and the Son,
Keep us in eternal life.

Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father,
Enter our hearts.

Holy Spirit, who has spoken through the Prophets,
Open our ears.

Holy Spirit, who enlightens and strengthens for your service,
Dwell in us.

Holy Spirit, who in the beginning moved and brooded over the face of the waters,
Move and brood over our lives.

Holy Spirit, who is God's life-giving breath,
Breathe in us.

Holy Spirit, who blew through the Valley of Dry Bones giving life,
Enliven us.

Holy Spirit, who overshadowed Mary that she might give birth to the Son of God,
Grace us to give birth to the divine in our time and place.

Holy Spirit, who rested on Jesus at his baptism,
Rest upon us and renew our baptismal life.

Holy Spirit, who as a tongue of fire rested on and filled the apostles,
Burn in us with the power of your love.

Holy Spirit, who descended on the day of Pentecost,
Unite us in the confession of one faith.

Holy Spirit, who descended on the day of Pentecost,
Empower us to serve you as a royal priesthood.

Holy Spirit, who descended on the day of Pentecost,
Encourage us to preach the gospel to all nations.

Come Holy Spirit,
Our souls inspire.

Spirit of understanding,

Spirit of counsel,

Spirit of fortitude,

Spirit of knowledge,

Spirit of piety,

Spirit of Godly fear,

With the fruit of love,
Fill us.

With the fruit of joy,
Fill us.

With the fruit of peace,
Fill us.

With the fruit of patience,
Fill us.

With the fruit of generosity,
Fill us.

With the fruit of gentleness,
Fill us.

With the fruit of self-control,
Fill us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
Send us the Advocate.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
Send us the Spirit of Truth.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
Send us the Holy Spirit.

V:  Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
R:  And kindle in them the fire of your love.

V:  Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and they shall be created,
R:  And you shall renew the face of the earth.

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth who are present everywhere, filling all things, Treasury of Good and Giver of Life,
Come and dwell in us, cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.

Holy Spirit, you came as Christ own first gift for those who believe, that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us:  Complete his work in the world and bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.  Amen.

Almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless and keep us, Amen.

The Desert Fathers as Regular Guys  

Posted by Joe Rawls

In The Wisdom of the Desert Thomas Merton addresses the stereotype of the monk as spiritual superman, a kind of angel in a habit.  Merton's own life was human, at times all too human.  The desert fathers are relevant to us because, paradoxically, they sought solitude so that they could become themselves.  The excerpt is on pp 479-480 of  A Thomas Merton Reader, ed Thomas P McDonnell, Doubleday 1989.


The desert fathers insisted on remaining human and "ordinary".  This may seem to be a paradox, but it is very important.  If we reflect a moment, we will see that to fly into the desert in order to be extraordinary is only to carry the world with you as an explicit standard of comparison.  The result would be nothing but self-contemplation, and self-comparison with the negative standard of the world one had abandoned.  Some of the monks of the Desert did this, as a matter of fact:  and the only fruit of their trouble was that they went out of their heads.  The simple men who lived their lives out to a good old age among the rocks and sands only did so because they had come into the desert to be themselves, their ordinary selves, and to forget a world that divided them from themselves.  There can be no other valid reason for seeking solitude or for leaving the world.  And thus to leave the world, is, in fact, to help save it in saving oneself.  This is the final point, and it is an important one.  The Coptic hermits who left the world as though escaping from a wreck, did not merely intend to save themselves.  They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage.  But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different.  Then they had not only the power but even the obligation to pull the whole world to safety after them.

This is their paradoxical lesson for our time.  It would perhaps be too much to say that the world needs another movement such as that which drew these men into the deserts of Egypt and Palestine.  Ours is certainly a time for solitaries and for hermits.  But merely to reproduce the simplicity, austerity, and prayer of these primitive souls is not a complete or satisfactory answer.  We must transcend them, and transcend all those who, since their time, have gone beyond the limits which they set.  We must liberate ourselves, in our own way, from involvement in a world that is plunging to disaster.  But our world is different from theirs.  Our involvement in it is more complete.  Our danger is far more desperate.  Our time, perhaps, is shorter than we think.

We cannot do exactly what they did.  But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break all spiritual chains, and cast off the domination of alien compulsions, to find our true selves, to discover and develop our inalienable spiritual liberty and use it to build, on earth, the Kingdom of God.  This is not the place in which to speculate what our great and mysterious vocation might involve.  That is still unknown.  Let it suffice for me to say that we need to learn from these men of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion, and strike out fearlessly into the unknown.

Resurrected Flesh  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The resurgence in popularity of  Gnostic writings over the past several decades is somewhat puzzling, given the Gnostic disparagement of matter and the rampant materialism of Western popular culture.  I suspect Gnosticism's interest  for contemporary people lies mainly in its  appeal to self-absorption and its thumbing of the nose at institutional religion.  The extreme contempt for the body, for sexuality, and for matter in general is conveniently overlooked by 21st-century enthusiasts, who may more accurately be described as practicing pop-Gnosticism or Gnostic-lite. Needless to say, there is no place for bodily resurrection in either ancient or modern Gnosticism.

A good explication of the contrasting Gnostic and orthodox Christian views of embodiment is found in Resurrection:  the power of God for Christians and Jews, by Kevin J Madigan and Jon D Levenson (Yale 2008), a study of how the notion of resurrection originated in Judaism and became a central tenet of both it and Christianity.  The excerpt below is found on pp 231-233.


Tertullian makes the important observation that most doubts about the resurrection begin with complaints about the flesh itself.  Of the Gnostics, he writes:  "Their great burden is...everywhere an invective against the flesh:  against its origins, its substance, against the casualties   and the invariable enf which await it; unclean from its first formation from the dregs of the ground, uncleaner afterwards from the mire of its own seminal transmission; worthless, weak, covered with guilt, laden with misery, full of trouble, and after all this record of its degradation dropping into its original earth and the appellation of a corpse and destined to dwindle away even from this loathsome name." 

Tertullian's response arises from the intuition that the flesh derives its dignity not from its intrinsic properties but from being the work of God.  It is God's molding and selection of the flesh that makes it worthy.  Thus it is both the dignity and the skill of the maker that give the flesh nobility and splendor.  So artistically is humankind created that it becomes impossible to distinguish flesh and spirit.  Drawing on Christological language about the relation of the divine and human in the incarnate Christ, Tertullian observes of humanity:  "so intimate is the union, that it may be deemed to be uncertain whether the flesh bears about the soul, or the soul the flesh; whether the flesh acts as servant to the soul or the soul to the flesh."  Besides, had not both testaments of the scriptures magnified the flesh?  Had not Isaiah declared, "all flesh, as one, shall behold [the Presence of the Lord]" (Isa 40:5).  Had not Paul called our bodies temples of the Lord, members of Christ? (1 Cor 6:19).  In their argument that the material creation cannot be redeemed, the Gnostics typically use Paul's point that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 15:50), as Irenaeus points out.  But Tertullian argues, it is not the substance of the flesh that Paul railed against, but its actions.  What is more, if flesh were not raised, would not death have preserved victory over that which God had created and hallowed?  Soul and body had acted coordinately in sinning and in doing good, and for justice to prevail, they must be judged together at the end of time, as both Jews (excepting the Sadducees, Tertullian  notes) and Christians believe.  At the end of time, the body will be changed; it will be incorruptible.  But it will be a fleshly body that will rise.  For Irenaeus the proof of this is in the raising of Jesus with the body that preserved the nail wounds, proof that we, too, would be raised in our bodies.

For orthodox writers like Tertullian and Irenaeus, it is the Gnostics and not the gospel of Jesus Christ that is negative regarding the body.  The Gnostic dismissal of the fleshly resurrection of the dead is but one symptom, though perhaps the most important one, of their inability to appreciate God's handiwork.

These second-century Christian writers are well aware that some of the scriptures, such as Colossians and parts of the letters of John, speak of the resurrection as a present reality, rather than an event of the end time.  These were particularly popular texts among the Gnostics.  But both Tertullian and Irenaeus use the same texts against the Gnostics in order to emphasize that there is a future, and bodily, dimension to resurrection.  Thus Tertullian quotes 1 John 3:2:  "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed."  He quotes other texts to the same effect.  John and Paul also speak of a future bodily resurrection.  Does not Paul say, "He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself" (Phil 3:21).  Although our flesh will undergo change, in other words, its substance will be preserved.  The notion that resurrection would be purely spiritual was wrongheaded and based on a misunderstanding of the scriptures, particularly Paul.  When Paul spoke of the human as a temple of the spirit, he was not referring to soul only but simply to the notion that it was an integral human being, body and soul, who became such a dwelling place for God.

Both Tertullian and Irenaeus go to some pains to argue against a view of salvation that is understood strictly in terms of the survival or salvation of the soul.  Again, the Gnostic message is in the background.  Both the Gnostics and the orthodox agreed that the soul would be "safe" after death, that is, that by virtue of its intrinsic immortality, it would survive and be saved.  What was at issue was whether that which was subject to decay and destruction--the flesh--would similarly be saved.  The Gnostics denied it would.  But the orthodox Christian view of God's creation, of human nature, and of justice could not allow for this partial understanding of salvation.  As the orthodox saw it, the texture of humanity was a seamless, invisible work of art, composed of flesh and soul--very much like the view of the rabbis we examined in the previous chapter.  God will reward the blessed, body and soul.  "How could we be blessed", Tertullian asks, "if any part of us were to perish?"  Only if the whole person, both elements of which were created by God, were raised could humanity be redeemed and justice achieved.  Also crucial, again, is the presumption of God's stupendous power.  As Irenaeus sums up the case, "For if He does not vivify what is mortal, and does not bring back the corruptible to incorruption, He is not a God of power."  Had the Gnostics not read Paul?  God would, in the end, clothe our perishable bodies in imperishability, our mortal bodies in immortality, and death would be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:54).

Anglican Good Friday Meditations  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For Good Friday I offer two examples from Caroline divines representing the best of classical Anglicanism:  Lancelot Andrewes and Jeremy Taylor.  From a post on Catholicity and Covenant.


Lancelot Andrewes, Good Friday Sermon 1597

Inasmuch as His heart is pierced, and His side opened; the opening of the one, and the piercing of the other, is to the end somewhat may flow forth.  To which end, saith St Augustine, 'the Apostle was well advised when he used the word opening, for there issued out water and blood.  Mark it running out, and suffer it not to waste, but receive it.  Of the former, the water, the Prophet speaketh, that out of His pierced side God 'opened a fountain of water to the House of Israel for sin and for uncleanness of the fullness whereof we all have received in the Sacrament of Baptism.  Of the latter, the blood, which the Prophet calleth 'the blood of the New Testament', we may receive this day; for it will run in the high and holy mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ.  There may we be partakers of flesh of the Morning Hart, as upon this day killed.  There may we be partakers of 'the cup of salvation', the precious blood, which was shed for the remission of sins.  And shall we always receive grace, even streams of grace issuing from Him that is pierced.

Jeremy Taylor, The Great Exemplar

And now behold the priest and sacrifice of all the world laid upon the altar of the cross, bleeding and tortured, and dying to reconcile His Father to us:  and was arrayed with ornaments more glorious than the robes of Aaron.  The crown of thorns was his mitre, the cross his pastoral staff, the nails piercing his hands were instead of rings, the ancient ornaments of priests and his flesh rased and chequered with blue and blood, instead of the parti-coloured robes.  This object calls for our devotion, our love and our eucharist to our dearest Lord. 

Celtic Penance  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Given the trendiness of "Celtic spirituality", one does not expect to hear the word "penitence" mentioned in conjunction with it.  On this St Patrick's day, which falls, as always,  during Lent, we can stand to delve into how the actual Celtic church dealt with sin and repentance.  There exist a number of "penitentials", manuscripts listing sins and recommended penances, which were written to advise priests and other spiritual masters in dealing with those needing to morally unburden themselves.  If one is only familiar with the sort of Celtic spirituality found in New Age bookstores, these penitentials are likely to come as a rude shock.  One such penance, for example, consisted in standing up to one's neck in the sea in the middle of the night while reciting Psalm 119 (the longest) in its entirety. 

But the Christian Celts were not merely obsessed with sin as a bad deed earning demerits.  Irish Roman Catholic priest Liam Tracey, OSM, deals with broader issues in an article appearing in Thinking Faith, the online journal of the British Jesuits. 


Perhaps one of the greatest contributions of the Irish Church to the Christian tradition is one that is usually ignored by most popular treatments of 'Celtic Spirituality'.  That is the contribution made to the Sacrament of Penance and its codification in the genre of literature called the Penitentials, sometimes seen just as lists of sins and their appropriate penances, but perhaps more to be understood as part of the pastoral care of the Church...In the fifth and sixth centuries, right across Western Christianity, the normal modes of celebrating the Sacrament of Penance had broken down.  The system of public penance that was normative for serious sinners, which was modelled on the system of the catechumenate and seen as a second baptism, was rarely practiced.  As this system was a once off, a singular second chance, many people delayed approaching the sacrament until the end of their lives.  The realm of God's forgiving love and mercy was lost in practice.  The Irish had their own particular way of dealing with this pastoral issue that brought them into conflict with other mainland Churches.  The Irish, drawing from their background in monasticism and the great monastic teacher John Cassian, saw sin not so much as a crime but rather as something that impedes the development of a full Christian life.  One's soul friend would enable one to root out such imperfection, very often by replacing a 'vice' with a 'virtue'.  A soul friend is not just a relationship of friendship, it is much more one of mentor and disciple.  Not unique to the Irish, it became one of the most distinguishing features of their practice of monasticism.  The goal of the Christian life is conversion, and to ever deepen one's conversion to Christ.  The role of the soul friend is to help the Christian to remove what may be a block on that road.  The penitentials began in this atmosphere and are an attempt to codify the teachings and insights of these spiritual guides.  Yes, it does lead to an increasing individualistic sense of sin that has little contact with a concrete community.  It moves penance into a more private setting but it does also see sin as less than a crime and more as a sickness that needs treatment and the intervention of a skilled person, the soul friend.  also important for the Irish practice is what seems to be an Irish tradition--that of reparation.  This is where the offense to a person or group is offset by the payment of a fine by the guilty party.  Each offense has a particular price and it is easy to see how this notion could make its way into an already existing monastic practice.  The clash between the Irish system of penance and the Continental ones may also be read as a clash between and older Roman world and a newer emerging North European one.

Transfiguration and Eschatology  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For the last Sunday in Epiphany season, the gospel reading for the Eucharist is always one of the synoptic accounts of the Transfiguration.  This is in part because the Transfiguration has traditionally been considered a prefiguring of the Resurrection of Jesus, which in turn is a prefiguring of the resurrection of us all at the eschaton, the end of time.  Common to all of these is the manifestation of uncreated light, which is divinity made visible. 

An excellent resource for this topic is The Uncreated Light by Solrunn Nes (Eerdmans 2007).  Nes, a Norwegian Roman Catholic iconographer, examines icons of the Transfiguration from both artistic and theological perspectives.  The oldest known representation of the event is found in the church of St Catherine's monastery at the foot of Mt Sinai.  It was made under the sponsorship of the Byzantine emperor Justinian in the 6th century.  On pp 69-71, Nes discusses the Transfiguration as eschatological sign.


When we turn our attention from the representation of Moses on the triumphal arch to the scene of the Transfiguration in the apse, we again are met by Moses.  The same Moses, who, on Sinai, sought to see the transcendent God face to face, is shown on Tabor conversing face to face with he who "reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature" (Heb 1:3).  Moses has reached his goal.  Together with Elijah he refers to the Old Covenant, confirms the New Covenant and points toward the contemplation of God in the age to come.

John Chrysostom (344-407) dwells on the idea of a gradual revelation of the mystery when he interprets the theophany at Sinai as a prefiguration of the theophany at Tabor which again is a prefiguration of the second coming of Christ.   In a homily on the Transfiguration this eschatological aspect is described in the following way:
But if we will, we shall also behold Christ, not as they then on the mount, but in far greater brightness.  For not thus shall he come hereafter.  For whereas then, to spare his disciples, he disclosed only so much of his brightness as they were able to bear; hereafter he shall come in the glory of the Father, not with Moses and Elias only, but with the infinite hosts of the angels, with the archangels, with the cherubim, with those infinite tribes, not having a cloud over his head, but even heaven itself being folded up.

What the disciples glimpsed at Tabor will be thoroughly unfolded when the uncreated light breaks through into the created world.  The uncreated light affects everything it touches and transforms the saints into the likeness of that which they see.  The apostle John, who was eyewitness to the transfiguration, emphasizes this future perspective when he writes:  "We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).  Dionysius the Areopagite's vision of the glory of the world to come can be understood as a paraphrase in the following text:
when we have arisen incorruptible, immortal, and have attained the blessed Christ-like state, we shall be, as the Scripture says, "for ever with the Lord", filled, through the all-pure and holy contemplation, with the visible manifestation of God himself, shining through us with most radiant splendour, as it shone about the disciples in the Transfiguration.

Here we arrive at the fulfillment of the Christian promise of glory.  The eschatological vision in the coming life is a completion of the mystical vision in this life. 

Andrei Rublev, Iconographer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

"There exists the icon of the Trinity by St Andrei Rublev; therefore, God exists."  These words by Pavel Florensky, 20th century Russian Orthodox priest, theologian, and victim of Stalin's gulags, sum up well what many people feel instinctively when they gaze upon the world's most popular icon.  Its  popularity stems from the mystery of its subject matter as well as the skill of the monk who wrote it (icons are "written", not painted).  Sadly, we know very little about the life of Andrei Rublev, though that's probably how he would want it.  He was born sometime around 1360, spent much of his boyhood in the great Holy Trinity monastery, became a monk at Moscow's Andronikov monastery, but returned temporarily to Holy Trinity where he created his masterpiece.  He reposed on this day in 1430.  He was declared a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988 and several years ago was included in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. 

Below is an Orthodox liturgical prayer, a collect from the Book of Common Prayer, and an excerpt from Fr Gabriel Bunge's The Rublev Trinity:  The Icon of the Trinity by the Monk-Painter Andrei Rublev (2007, St Vladimir's Seminary Press), p 88.


Troparion Tone 3
Shining with the rays of divine light,
O venerable Andrei,
You knew Christ the wisdom and power of God.
By means of the image of the Holy Trinity
You preached to all the world the Holy Trinity in unity.
And we with amazement and joy, cry out to you:
As you have boldness before the Most Holy Trinity
Pray that the Uncreated Light
May illumine our souls!

Book of Common Prayer
Holy God, we bless you for the gift of your monk and icon writer Andrei Rublev, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, provided a window into heaven for generations to come, revealing the majesty and mystery of the holy and blessed Trinity; who lives and reigns through ages of ages.  Amen.

Despite his modifications, Rublev was not at all original.  Rather, his genius consisted in advancing the ancient iconographic tradition of his Church to a depth and transparent clarity that had never been attained before or even later, even in the most exact copies.  This is the place where the personality of the painter enters permanently into his work.  The ancient sources about the monk Andrei draw attention to his great humility, which more than his artistic genius led not only to the canonization of his Troitsa [Trinity icon] at the synod of 1551, but also to his official glorification as a saint in 1988 as part of the celebrations of the millenium of Russian Christianity.

For without a deeply rooted humility, a complete renunciation of all worldly ambition before the sublimity of the mystery that he served as a painter, Rublev would never have been able to paint his Trinity.  Not once did he set his name as icon painter to his work.

Mystical Paul  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For today's feast of the Conversion of St Paul, I was invited by the monks of Mount Calvary at St Mary's to give a brief homily, followed by comments from the congregants, at the regular Friday morning liturgy of Lauds/Eucharist, which is attended by 20-25 people from the local community. 


The Gospel:  Matt 10:  16-22
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
Be on your guard against people; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  All people will hate you because of me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.

Last week, when Brother Nicholas asked me to speak, he admonished, "Say something positive about Paul".  So, in monastic obedience, I will not make snarky remarks about Paul the misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, opinionated windbag.  Instead, I will talk about Paul the mystic.

"Mystic", of course, is not the first word that pops into most people's minds when they hear the name Paul.  There definitely is, however, a mystic side to Paul, which we have to recover if we are to rehabilitate him from his image as a kind of first-century male version of the Church Lady.  But to do this, I must beg your indulgence and skip momentarily to a different scripture passage.

2 Corinthians chapter 12 describes an episode in Paul's life in which he momentarily left our familiar space-time continuum and experienced God directly:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.  Whether it was in the body or out of the body, i do not know--God knows.  And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

In first-century Mediterranean cosmology, "the third heaven" is the place where God dwells.  "The first heaven" would correspond to what we think of as the earth's atmosphere, while "the second heaven" would be outer space.  So Paul had an ecstatic experience in which he encountered God directly and acquired esoteric knowledge.

Of course, there was also Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus.  And, less dramatically, he constantly refers to being "in Christ" in his letters.

Scholars have connected Paul's "third heaven" experience to earlier visionaries such as Isaiah, Elijah, Ezekiel, and Enoch, and to later things like the Jewish Merkabah tradition, a predecessor of Kabbalah.  So his experience was not eccentric but deeply rooted in his original Jewish faith.

So how do we tie all this in with the Gospel reading?  Christian-Jewish dialog has progressed to a point where we no longer have to fear getting beat up in synagogues.  But what if we interpret this passage as a metaphor for confrontation with the leadership of the church?  It's no secret that all churches, particularly the mainline denominations, are under serious financial and organizational stress.  The temptation to preserve the institution at all costs, to double down on what has always worked in the past, is very strong.  We may not be mystics as was Paul, but most of us are strong contemplatives.  We have something to offer the larger church--a reason to exist that goes beyond stewardship campaigns.  If we witness to the truth of our experience to the church powers, we will often be politely ignored or even ridiculed.  But if we allow the Spirit of our Father to speak through us, we will indeed stand firm to the end, and perhaps bring new life to our beloved, crazy-making church.

Baptism and Theosis  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today we commemorate the Baptism of Jesus.  WHY Jesus sought baptism at the hands of his kinsman John is intriguing, but the subject of another post.  Rather, I want to touch on the relationship between the sacrament of baptism and the process of theosis.  For this I turn to an excellent book by Norman Russell, Fellow Workers with God:  Orthodox Thinking on Theosis (Crestwood, St Vladimir's  Seminary Press 2009).  His point of departure is Psalm 82:  1; 6-7.  "God stands in the assembly of gods; in the midst of them he will judge gods...I said you are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High.  But you die like men, and fall as one of the princes."  This is one of the key scriptural texts referring to theosis.  On pp 61-63, he explores how the early fathers Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria interpreted this psalm.


In his great work Against the Heresies, Irenaeus connects the gods of Psalm 82 for the first time with St Paul's teaching on adoption.  Psalm 82.1, he says...refers to the Father and the Son and those who have received the grace of adoption through which we cry "Abba, Father!"...Irenaeus says that Christians had become "gods" through baptism (Against the Heresies 3.6.1.)

A little later he moves on to consider verse 7 of the psalm.  This, he says, "was addressed to those who have not received the gift of adoption."  And by failing to honor the Incarnation through the acceptance of baptism, they have deprived themselves of their ascent to God (3.19.1).

When he returns to the psalm a third time, he develops an entirely new aspect.  Here he is looking for an argument against those who felt that having been baptized they had nothing more to do:  they had attained divinity in one go.  No, he said:  you have got to become fully human (ie, conquer the passions) before you can become like God.  You are not able to receive God's gift of eternal existence without first growing to maturity.  When the psalm says, "you shall die like men", that is to tell us that we cannot carry the full charge of divinity unless we first grow into the image and likeness that had been forfeited by Adam.  Baptism gives us a potential immortality, but we have to work at it before we can call ourselves "gods and sons of the Most High."  Irenaeus thus not only makes the psalm's connection with baptism explicit, but associates it with the recovery of the image and likeness of God (4.38.3).  In other words, to the psalm's connection with the mystery of baptism he adds a moral dimension...

...Clement [of Alexandria] ran a school, or study-circle...and published several books on the Christian life.  One of these was the Paedagogus, or Tutor, intended to help the recently baptized deepen their understanding of the Christian faith.  Here Clement follows Irenaeus in connecting Psalm 82.6 with baptism.  Christ, he says, at his own baptism in the Jordan was sanctified by the descent of the Holy Spirit:  "The same also takes place in our case, whose exemplar Christ became.  Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated, we become sons; being made sons, we become perfect; being made perfect we become immortal.  'I said,' says Scripture, 'you are gods and all of you sons of the Most High.' (Paed 1.26.1).

To become "gods and sons of the Most High" means to attain immortal life.  In his Protrepticus, however, or Exhortation to the Greeks, which is addressed to educated Christians and others interested in Christianity, Clement goes further.  Here he concludes by saying that the "gods and sons of the Most High" are not simply those whom the Father has adopted through baptism.  They are also those who have attained the likeness of God.  Irenaeus had already made this connection, but where Clement goes beyond him is  to link it with the Platonic axiom (drawn from Plato's dialogue, Thaeatetus 176b) that the philosopher's chief task is to become like God as far as possible.  Thus only the Christian is the true philosopher, because it is only through baptism in combination with the pursuit of the moral life that likeness to God can be attained.