Christmas Proclamation  

Posted by Joe Rawls

An ancient custom in the Roman liturgy is the solemn proclamation, or Kalenda, of the Nativity at the start of the Christmas Eve Mass.  A translation of the text as chanted in the video (made in St Peter's Basilica in 2012) appears below.


  In the twenty-fifth day of the month of December,

In the year five thousand one hundred and ninety-nine from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;

In the year two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven from the flood;

In the year two thousand and fifty-one from the birth of Abraham;

In the year one thousand five hundred and ten from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses;

In the year one thousand and thirty-two from the anointing of David as king;

In the fifty-sixth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

In the year seven hundred and fifty-two from the foundation of the city of Rome;

In the forty-second year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus;

In the sixth age of the world, while the whole earth was at peace--

JESUS CHRIST  eternal God and the Son of the eternal Father, willing to consecrate the world by His gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Spirit, and the nine months of His conception being now accomplished, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary and made flesh.

The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the flesh.

On the Night of the Nativity  

Posted by Joe Rawls

St Ephraim the Syrian (306 to ca 373), with over 400 hymns and poems attributed to him, is one of Christianity's most prolific hymnodists.  Written originally in Syriac, they were translated into Greek at an early stage, and thence became widely known throughout the church.  Typical is "On the Night of the Nativity", reproduced below.  Hat-tip to the Orthodox Christian Network website.

Pure is the present night, in which the Pure One appeared, Who came to purify us!  Let our hearing be pure, and the sight of our eyes chaste, and the feeling of the heart holy, and the speech of the mouth sincere!

The present night is the night of reconciliation; therefore, let no one be wroth against his brother and offend him!

This night gave peace to the whole world, and so, let no one threaten.  This is the night of the Meek One; let no one be cruel!

This is the night of the Humble One; let no one be proud!

Now is the day of joy; let us not take revenge for offenses!  Now is the day of good will; let us not be harsh.  On this day of tranquility, let us not become agitated by anger!

Today God came unto sinners; let not the righteous exalt himself over sinners!

Today the Most Rich One became poor for our sake; let the rich man invite the poor to his table!

Today we received a gift which we did not ask for; let us bestow alms to those who cry out to us and beg!

The present day has opened the door of heaven to our prayers; let us also open our door to those who ask of us forgiveness!

Today the Godhead placed upon Himself the seal of humanity, and humanity has been adorned with the seal of the Godhead!

Kind Words for the Creed  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Creeds just aren't trendy these days.  They are apt to be derided by theological "progessives"--the creeds contain statements that modern people simply cannot accept intellectually--and equally by evangelicals--the creeds are "unscriptural" and divert attention from a personal relationship with Jesus.  But there are more positive approaches to the creeds.  Such can be found in the provocative book Deep Church Rising:  the Third Schism and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy (Cascade Books 2014).  This represents an Eastern Orthodox/Evangelical collaboration by authors Andrew G Walker and Robin A Parry.  Below is an excerpt dealing with the ongoing relevance of the creeds.


Creeds often take a fair amount of flack.  In the minds of many people they are lifeless sets of "things to believe" that substitute for authentic heart-felt faith; they epitomize outward "religion" obsessed with form and ritual, as opposed to inward devotion.  For some they are seen to foster a propositional approach to faith that focuses on the primacy of assent to certain claimed facts.  Others see them as a source of oppression, the top-down imposition by powerful ecclesiastical hierarchies of what Christians are compelled to confirm...

...We wish to present creeds differently.  The great ecumenical Creed is, we suggest, an instrument of the Holy Spirit to help keep the church focused on key aspects of the gospel message.  A few points of orientation are in order.

1.  The Creed is indeed concerned with certain critical assertions about God and salvation history--assertions that Christians have historically maintained as central--but it is oriented toward the primacy of existentially committed  belief...the Creed is embedded within the wider context of acts of spiritual devotion and worship.

2.  The Creed does not point toward itself but beyond itself...

3.  The Creed does indeed contain propositions--...but they are misunderstood if they are thought to be simple lists of items to believe.  On the contrary, they are in fact narrative summaries pointing to the grand story of the triune God's activity in creation; in the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ; in the church; and in the future with the return of Christ and the new creation...

4.  The Creed is not an attempt to reduce God to a set of sentences, nor an attempt to explain God...

5.  The Creed does define boundaries for orthodox Christian faith, but those boundaries are surprisingly wide...

6.  Orthodoxy may be a large tent but it is not infinitely large.  Boundaries do need to be drawn and this, we maintain, is a good thing.  If Christianity can be anything at all then it is nothing at all...

7.  The ecumenical Creed serves a unifying purpose because all the main groupings within the Christian church--Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant--affirm it...

8.  ...what the Creed does say is intended to provide the normative theological framework within which everything else should be understood...

9.  To say that those who transgress aspects of the Creed have moved beyond the bounds of authentic Christian beliefs is not to say that such people will not be saved nor even that they are not real Christians.

The Power of the Sign of the Cross  

Posted by Joe Rawls

As the above image suggests, the sign of the cross has always been a part of my devotional life.  It is also used by countless Roman Catholics, Eastern Christians, Anglicans (and not just the High Church variety) and a wide variety of other Christians.  But what does it mean, if it is not just an unreflective  act of pious devotion?  A good answer is provided in Stephen Beale's essay "21 Things We Do When We Make the Sign of the Cross" which is found here on the Catholic Exchange website. 


1. Pray
2. Open ourselves to grace
3. Sanctify the day
4. Commit the whole self to Christ:  in moving our hands from our foreheads to our hearts and then both shoulders we are asking God's blessing for our mind, our passions and desires, our very bodies.
5. Recall the Incarnation
6. Remember the Passion of Our Lord
7. Affirm the Trinity
11. Invoke the power of God's Name
14. Reaffirm our Baptism
16. Remake ourselves in Christ's image
17. Mark ourselves for Christ
20. Seal ourselves in the Spirit
21. Witness to others.

Martin Thornton on the Daily Office  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Martin Thornton (1915-1986), a priest in the Church of England, was a leading Anglican spiritual writer of the 20th century.  He wrote a number of books including Anglican Spirituality and The Heart of the Parish:  a theology of the remnant.  He stressed the importance of individual Christians developing a rule of life, based upon the Eucharist, some version of the Daily Office, and private devotion or contemplative prayer.  In this essay, excerpted below, Matthew Dallman discusses several of Thornton's insights into the Office.


1)  The Our Father prayer is the sole domenical basis for the Office; it establishes its corporate nature, its teleology, its disposition, its paradigm.  The Didache confirms its centrality to corporate set prayer.

2)  The Office can only be understood theologically within the larger theology of Regula-Office-Mass-Devotion--which is the ascetical application of the doctrine of the Trinity:  Office associates with the Father, Mass with the Son, and Devotion with the Spirit.

3)  The Office is objective praise to the Father by the Body of Jesus...Sanctification of time is by our attentiveness to the abundant activity of the Holy Spirit...

4)  Sober assessment of the pastoral situation today must conclude that the reason few people do the Office likely stems from the fact that the authorized Anglican Office today was crafted for a late-medieval society...The Anglican Office has rightly endured as a Benedictine inheritance, yet now reform is necessary.

5)  ...The ideal is memorization of the Office, and no books.

Schmemann on Sacraments  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Father Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) was one of the most prominent Eastern Orthodox theologians of the 20th century.  Born in Tallinn, Estonia, his family soon relocated to Paris, the home of a thriving community of White Russian exiles.  He was educated at the Institut Saint-Serge, an Orthodox seminary, and also earned a doctorate from the University of Paris.  In the late 1940's he was offered a position at St Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, just north of New York City.  He remained there for the rest of his life.  He produced a number of significant books and was an adjunct professor at several New York area seminaries, including General Theological Seminary.

In The Eucharist:  Sacrament of the Kingdom (St Vladimir Seminary Press, 1987) Schmemann exemplifies the Orthodox stress on the sacraments as the means by which not only individual Christians, but the entire created universe, is sanctified and enabled to participate in divine life.  The quote below is found on pp 33-34.  A hat-tip to the Eclectic Orthodoxy site.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ the Orthodox ecclesial experience and tradition, a sacrament is understood primarily as a revelation of the genuine nature of creation, of the world, which, however much it has fallen as "this world", will remain God's world, awaiting salvation, redemption, healing and transfiguration in a new earth and a new heaven.  In other words, in the Orthodox experience a sacrament is primarily a revelation of the sacramentality of creation itself, for the world was created and given to man for conversion of creaturely life into participation in divine life.  If in baptism water can become a "laver of regeneration", if our earthly food--bread and wine--can be transformed into partaking of of the body and blood of Christ, if, to put it briefly, everything in the world can be identified, manifested, and understood as a gift of God and participation in the new life, it is because all of creation was originally summoned and destined for the fulfillment of the divine economy--"then God will be all in all."

Andrew of Crete on the Exaltation of the Holy Cross  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Andrew, a native of Damascus, was a monk in Jerusalem, an archdeacon at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and ended his life as archbishop of Crete.  He is known mainly as a writer of liturgical texts.  The discourse excerpted below can be found at Oratio 10 in Exaltatione sanctae crucis:  PG 97, 1018-1019.

Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified.  Had there been no cross, life itself could not have been nailed to the tree.  And if life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ's side, blood and water for the world's cleansing.  The legal bond of our sin would not be canceled, we should not have obtained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open.  Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.

Therefore, the cross is something wonderfully great and honorable.  It is great because through the cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation--very many indeed, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory.  The cross is honorable because it is both the sign of God's suffering and the trophy of his victory.  It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death.  But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.

Being Present to the Real Presence  

Posted by Joe Rawls

One of the pious customs of my pre-Vatican II Catholic boyhood was "making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament".  The priests and nuns would encourage us to enter the church when Mass was not being said, kneel at the communion rail in front of the high altar, and pray while focusing our attention on the tabernacle (only Anglicans called it an "aumbry") where the reserved consecrated bread--no wine in those days--was kept.  Since Christ was "truly present" in the sacrament of the Eucharist, we could feel that we were in the presence of God Himself. 

This devotion also exists among high-church Anglicans, as seen in the excerpt below of a brief essay by Fr William, a member of St Gregory's Abbey in Three Rivers, MI.  Note his emphasis on the notion that silence and stillness "work" just as well as verbal prayer in this situation.


...I don't know why I find it easy to recreate and extend that liturgical silence when I make a visit to the reserved Sacrament.  But I do.  For me it's one of those times when the best response to God's self-manifestation is an awe-filled and deep quiet...

Certainlty words are important...For love to have meaning and to survive, the lovers have to talk to each other, and listen to each other.

But in addition to the exchange of words and the mutual understanding they build, love crys out for mutual presence, for intimacy, for time spent together.  In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus himself is present:  mysteriously, silently, sacramentally.  That means the Eucharist is where heaven and earth, eternity and time, grace and nature, touch. 

...But simply being quiet in the presence of the Lord is a form of prayer, too.  And it can be a powerful and spirit-filled kind of prayer.  In prayerful silence, we aren't like the couple talking about what's happened during the day, and how we are concerned about our kith and kin and the world around us...The prayer of quiet is like the couple sitting on the porch side by side in the evening who are sharing the time by being together at that time and place, not needing words at all just then.  That quiet time together, when we share it with our Lord, is a great blessing and time when God can work powerfully on our souls.

God In The Burning Bush  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today's Eucharistic reading from the Hebrew Scriptures (Ex 3:1-21) recounts Moses' encounter with God as manifested in a burning bush at the foot of Mt Sinai.  According to Orthodox tradition, the bush was not burning with literal fire, but was showing forth uncreated light, which is the Divine Presence made visible.  This is the same uncreated light that Jesus manifested at the Transfiguration.    A succinct description of this can be found in Orthodoxwiki.


In Orthodox Christian tradition...the flame Moses saw was in fact God's Uncreated Energies/Glory, manifested as light, thus explaining why the bush was not consumed..  It is not interpreted as a miracle in the sense of an event, which only temporarily exists, but is instead viewed as Moses being permitted to see these Uncreated Energies/Glory, which are considered to be eternal things.  The Orthodox definition of salvation is this vision of the Uncreated Energies/Glory, and it is a recurring theme in the works of Greek Orthodox theologians such as John S Romanides.

Dormition and Divinization  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For today's feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God (the Assumption in Roman Catholicism; simply the feast of St Mary the Virgin in Anglicanism), we turn once more to Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov, who provides insights into how Mary's post-earthly existence--variously understood as passing directly into heaven without dying, or experiencing a post-mortem resurrection similar to that of Jesus--is an instance of the divinization or theosis which is God's intention for all of us.  The excerpt below is found on pp 76-77 of The Burning Bush:  on the Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God, Thomas Allan Smith, translator, Eerdmans, 2009.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ her glorification the Mother of God receives through the Son from the Father the glory and power which are not inherently hers according to human nature.  This is divinization in the precise sense, a canopy of divine graced life unfurling over that being in which it is not inherent and which it transcends.  Because of this the whole difference between the Son and the Mother, between His and her power and glory, remains.  The first is boundless and unlimited, absolute, as the power of God in creation.  The second is derivative, a graced giveness, and in virtue of this derivativeness it is not unlimited, not absolute.  In other words, the Lord is God by nature, the Mother of God is not God by nature, but only by grace, no matter how full and complete her divinization is.  In her person is fulfilled only what is foreordained for all humans:  "I said, you are gods" (Ps 82.6; cf Jn 10.34-35). 

...She is the petitioner on behalf of the human race and the mediator between God and human beings as a glorified and divinized human.  If the Lord is the petitioner and high priest in His capacity as the one offering Himself in sacrifice, she is the petitioner before Him...He joins in Himself two natures, but she raises up in herself, elevates to God humanity and all creatures.  As a creature, she does not participate in the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity according to nature, as does her Son; she only partakes of it by the grace of divinization.  But this grace is given to her already in a maximum and definitive degree, so that by its power she is the Heavenly Queen.  Between her and all the saints, no matter how exalted, angels or men, there remains an impenetrable border, for to none of them does the Church cry out save us, but only pray to God for us.  With respect to the whole human race she is already found on the other side of resurrection and last judgement; neither the one nor the other has any force for her...She is the already glorified creation before its general resurrection and glorification; she is the already accomplished Kingdom of Glory, while the world still remains "in the kingdom of grace."

Kallistos Ware on Hesychia and the Jesus Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is one of the world's preeminent Eastern Orthodox spiritual writers.  He often deals with the place of the Jesus Prayer in spiritual practice.  In his essay "Silence in Prayer:  the Meaning of Hesychia" he addresses the cultivation of interior stillness--that's basically what hesychia means--and how frequent recitation of the Jesus Prayer can contribute to achieving this stillness.  The essay is included in The Inner Kingdom:  Volume I of the Collected Works (2000, St Vladimir's Seminary Press), pp 99-102.


Prayer, it was said, is a "laying aside of thoughts," a return from multiplicity to unity.  Now when we first make a serious effort to pray inwardly, standing before God with the mind in the heart, immediately we become conscious of our inward disintegration--of our powerlessness to concentrate ourselves in the present moment, in the kairos.  Thoughts move restlessly through our head, like the buzzing of flies (St Theophan)or the capricious leaping of monkeys from branch to branch (Ramakrishna).  This lack of concentration, this inability to be here and now with the whole of our being, is one of the most tragic consequences of the Fall.

What is to be done?  The Orthodox ascetic tradition distinguishes two main methods of overcoming "thoughts".  The first is direct, to "contradict" our logismoi [errant thoughts], to meet them face to face, attempting to expel them by an effort of will...It is safer to employ the second method...we can seek to direct our attention away from them and to look elsewhere...our immediate objective is not to empty our mind of what is evil but rather to fill it with what is good.

...Although we cannot make the never-idle mind desist altogether from its restlessness, what we can do is to simplify and unify its activity by continually repeating a short formula of prayer.  The flow of images and thoughts will persist, but we shall be enabled gradually to detach ourselves from it...

...This, then, is the ascetic strategy presupposed in the use of the Jesus Prayer.  It assists us in applying the second or oblique method of combating  thoughts:  instead of trying to obliterate our corrupt or trivial imaginings by a direct confrontation, we turn aside and look at the Lord Jesus; instead of relying on our own power, we take refuge in the power and grace that act through the Divine Name.  The repeated invocation helps us to detach ourselves from the ceaseless chattering of our logismoi.

...First, to achieve its purpose the invocation should be rhythmical and regular...

In the second place, during the recitation of the Jesus Prayer the mind should be so far as possible empty of mental pictures.

Bulgakov on the Sanctification of the Cosmos  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944) was a Russian Orthodox priest and theologian.  The son of a priest, he went through an atheist phase during his university days--his degree was in economics--but was later reconciled to the Church.  Shortly after his ordination he was expelled from Russia by the Bolshevik regime.  He eventually made his way to Paris, where there was a thriving White Russian exile community, and helped establish the Institute St Serge, an Orthodox theological school.  His theological writings are often complex and sometimes controversial.  He survived an accusation of heresy over his concept of "sophiology".  Bulgakov's intriguing ideas on eschatology are more accessible and can be found in his book The Bride of the Lamb.  They are discussed in some detail on the excellent Eclectic Orthodoxy site.  Bulgakov is quite clear that at the end of the age not only will people be resurrected and deified, but that the physical universe will in some sense be divinized as well (though this should not be taken to imply pantheism).  The quote below comes from pp 404-405 of the book. 


...prior to the parousia this sanctification and deification remain incomplete and preliminary, for the action of the Holy spirit ends with the parousia; the whole power of the Pentecost is revealed to the world.  The world is sanctified, deified, and glorified by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the parousia arrives by virtue of this action of the Pentecost.  It is impossible to say what comes before and what after, for this is a single act that occurs both in heaven and on earth, signifying the end of God's kenosis and the beginning of the world's deification.  The Father sends the Son into the world and, secondarily as it were, He sends with Him the Holy Spirit for the joint accomplishment of the parousia and the transfiguration of the world.  The Son wills again to carry out the will of the Father, this time by a conclusive and universal act, in order to accomplish the salvation of the world and to "unite the things of earth with those of heaven", as the liturgical hymn says.

The Abbot as Spiritual Father in Benedict's Rule  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The abbot looms very large in Benedict's monastic Rule.  Rather than a mere ecclesiastical administrator, he is expected to act as a spiritual father to all of his monks.  This is acknowledged to be a very heavy burden, for which the abbot will be held to account after his death.  Chapters 2 and 64 of the Rule deal specifically with the abbot's authority and responsibilities, but his functions are referred to throughout the document.  His role as spiritual father has deep roots in the New Testament and in earlier monastic writers.  This is discussed in some detail in Appendix 2 of RB 1980:  The Rule of St Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, Timothy Fry, OSB, ed., Collegeville, MN, The Liturgical Press, 1981.  The excerpt is found on pp 355-356.


Clearly, the RB and the [Rule of the Master] are in the tradition of spiritual fatherhood.  We have seen that this, and the use of the title abba to designate the bearer of it, originated in Egypt, so far as our documentation permits us to judge, and first flourished among the semi-anchoritic elders.  It is probably the full-blown development of the charisms of prophecy and teaching that had been exercised by holy men in Christian communities from the beginning.  When cenobitism developed, the spiritual fatherhood of the abba was extended to a greater number of disciples.  In the Pachomian institute, new elements were added, notably the emphasis upon the importance of the koinonia, and adjustments such as the introduction of subordinates had to be made when the number of disciples increased.  But, while these differences may have altered the manner in which the abba's fatherhood was actually exercised, they did not change the essential relationship between abbot and monk-disciple.  The coenobium was an extension of the elder-disciple relationship on a scale that inevitably produced alterations, but this relationship remained the very essence of the cenobitic life.

The first thing that defines an abbot, then, is not his position at the head of a community or an institution but his relationship to persons.  He is a mediator between Christ and each of his monk-disciples.  It is through him that Christ reaches into the life of the monk:  his word and command come to the monk through the abbot's voice.  In him the monk must--by faith--see Christ personified and, as it were, newly made incarnate in quasi-sacramental fashion.  The entire purpose of this relationship is educative, in the sense of total spiritual formation.  The monastic tradition knew by experience how difficult it is for a Christian, despite good will, to follow God's law and come to salvation unaided.  The normal way of working out one's salvation is to learn from another human being who has himself made the journey and is able to guide another along the right path.  The abbot is primarily the spiritual father who provides such direction--this is his chief reason for being.  He is seen in terms of the biblical tradition of wisdom teacher, prophet and apostle, and of the concept of spiritual fatherhood that grew out of it in the early Church.

Since the father-analogy rests upon the transmission of teaching as primary analogue, the abbot's relationship to Christ, on the one hand, and to each monk, on the other, can also be described as doctor, 'teacher', but one who teaches a doctrine that he has himself received from Christ, the real Teacher.  The abbot is only a mediator.  The same may be said of the images of shepherd and steward:  these biblical metaphors also underscore the abbot's position as mediator.  His authority is delegated; he is functioning on another's behalf.  The coenobium exists in order to lead men to salvation by showing them Christ, his teaching and his will.  Any other goal it sets for itself is secondary and must remain subordinate to this supreme end.  It is a school, a place where people come together for their own formation at the hands of a master, a teacher qualified to guide them.  Its purpose is achieved to the extent that the ideal is realized in practice.  On the one hand, the abbot must be another Christ, a man of authentic and profound Christian conviction and experience, so thoroughly molded by the Word of God that his very being as well as his speech proclaims it unceasingly; a man with a clear understanding that his essential task is the formation of his disciples.  The monk, on the other hand, must not only come with this purpose in view but maintain it throughout his life, and, through all the dura et aspera, keep firm his faith that the abbot represents and functions as Christ for him.

Athanasius on the Trinity  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The doctrine of the Trinity coalesced intellectually during the course of the 4th century, but its roots go back to the theological musings of the earliest Christians, as preserved in the New Testament.  This is reflected in the first letter to Serapion by Athanasius, the great bishop of Alexandria.  It can be found in PG 26, 594-595, 599 (Ep 1 ad Serapionem, 28-30).


We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being.  It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the holy Trinity is preserved.  Accordingly, in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things.  God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit. 

Writing to the Corinthians about spiritual matters, Paul traces all reality back to one God, the Father, saying:  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone.

Even the gifts that the Spirit dispenses to individuals are given by the Father through the Word.  For all that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son, and so the graces given by the Son in the Spirit are true gifts of the Father. Similarly, when the Spirit dwells in us, the Word who bestows the Spirit is in us too, and the Father is present in the Word.  This is the meaning of the text:  My Father and I will come to him and make our home with him.  For where the light is, there also is the radiance; and where the radiance is, there too are its power and its resplendent grace.

This is also Paul's teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians:  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.  Just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit.  But when we share in the Spirit, we possess the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit himself. 

Isaac the Syrian on the Non-Permanence of Hell  

Posted by Joe Rawls

St Isaac the Syrian, also known as Isaac of Nineveh, lived during the seventh century.  He was born in the Persian Gulf in the vicinity of Qatar.  At an early age he and his brother entered a monastery affiliated with the Assyrian Church of the East, more commonly (and inaccurately) known as the Nestorian Church.  His monastic piety drew the attention of his ecclesiastical superiors, and he was consecrated bishop of Nineveh.  After only five months he resigned his see and devoted himself to a rigorous anchoritic life in the wilderness.  It was there that he produced the bulk of his ascetical writings.  Towards the end of his life, worn out and nearly blind, he returned to cenobitic life.

Although Isaac belonged to the non-Chalcedonian Church of the East, his writings--originally in Syriac--deal almost exclusively with prayer and other ascetical matters and avoid divisive Christological issues.  He has  therefore been highly regarded--and honored as a saint--by the Orthodox, Monophysite, and Roman Catholic churches.  A distinctive feature of his writings are his notions of hell and eternal punishment.  Basically, for him hell exists but is not forever; it is God's version of "tough love", a necessary stage of purification on the way to resurrection and eternal life.  God's love for all creatures is so great that even demons can be saved eventually.  A good discussion of Isaac's view of salvation contains lengthy quotes from his writings which are excerpted below.


For it would be most odious and utterly blasphemous to think that hate or resentment exists with God, even against demonic beings...Rather, He acts towards us in ways He knows will be advantageous to us, whether by way of things that cause suffering, or by way of things that cause relief...

...with Him it is not a matter of retribution, but He is always looking beyond to the advantage that will come from His dealing with humanity.  And one such thing is this matter of Gehenna.

It is not the way of the compassionate Maker to create rational beings in order to deliver them over mercilessly to unending affliction in punishment for things of which He knew even before they were fashioned, aware how they would turn out when He created them--and whom nonetheless He created.

I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love.  For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love?  I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment...Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna:  bitter regret.

...The wicked, who all their life have turned aside to evil deeds, after they have been set in order in their minds by punishments and the fear of them, choose the good, having come to learn how much they have sinned...and so eventually they are held worthy of the felicity of divine munificence.  For Christ would never have said "Until you pay the last farthing" unless it had been possible for us to be freed from our sins once we had recompensed for them through punishments.

Julian of Norwich as Anchoress  

Posted by Joe Rawls

  Julian (ca 1342-1416) is of course best known as a spiritual writer, but the actual lifestyle of an anchoress is seldom discussed.  A good source of information is this article.  It's important to note that an anchoress was not the same as a hermit, and that Julian's living space or "anchorage", despite its rather severe physical limitations, in reality allowed her a good deal of direct interaction with other people, many of whom received spiritual direction from her.  Some of the procedures involved in becoming an anchoress are excerpted below.


The "Rule of Life" [of an anchoress] was known as the "Ancrene Wisse".  [It] stated that an anchoress was enclosed under a church like an anchor under the side of a ship...The Rule decreed that: 
*  The cell, or anchorhold, of an anchoress should have three windows...
*  One window was to open into the church so that the anchoress could receive communion and follow the church services.  This window was called a "Squint".
*  The second window was to allow the anchoress to be in contact with her assistant.  Food would be passed through this window and refuse taken out.
*  The third window allowed people to come and seek her wisdom, advice, and prayers.
An anchorage also contained a private altar, a bed, and a crucifix.

[Role of the bishop]
*  The personal credentials of the would-be anchoress were checked...
*  The bishop then determined if there was adequate financial support...
*  He then determined a suitable location for the anchorage.
*  He then performed (or ordered performed) the ceremony or rite of enclosure.
*  He then agreed to oversee the well-being and support of the anchoress.

[Rite of enclosure]
*  The...anchoress should fast and make confession.
*  Keeping vigil throughout the preceding night.
*  Attend Mass...
*...a procession of the congregation would include chanting and the anchoress would carry a lighted taper.
*  Sometimes her grave would be made ready...and kept open in the cell as a "momento mori"...
*  Prayers would be said and the door to the...anchorage would be locked.  In some instances there was no door to the anchorage--the anchoress would be walled up.

Updike on the Resurrection  

Posted by Joe Rawls

John Updike (1932-2009) is best known as a prolific novelist but was also an accomplished poet.  His personal spiritual journey led him from Lutheranism through Congregationalism to the Episcopal Church.  His earthy, often clinical depictions of human sexuality co-existed readily with a lifelong commitment to traditional Christian faith.  This is exemplified in his 1960 poem Seven Stanzas on Easter.


Make no mistake:  if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh:  ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that--pierced--died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache',
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Bonhoeffer and the Liberals  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, born in 1906, was executed by the Nazis in the Flossenburg concentration camp on this date in 1945.I did not read much by him when I was younger, but I got the impression that he was a major figure in "liberal" theology, however one wishes to define that.  However, a reading of Eric Metaxas' biography Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010) revealed that his theology was in fact quite orthodox and traditional.  This comes  out in chapter 7, which deals with his time at Union Theological Seminary in New York, a postdoctoral year following the receipt of his doctorate in theology from Berlin University.  It seems that Bonhoeffer got more spiritual nourishment at Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday school, than in the rarefied atmosphere of Union.  He writes of his experiences in a number of letters which are quoted below.


There is no theology here [at Union Theological Seminary]...They talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria.  The students--on the average twenty-five to thirty years old--are completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about.  They are unfamiliar with even the most basic questions.  They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level...

...the lack of seriousness with which the students here speak of God and the world is, to say the least, extremely surprising...Over here one can hardly imagine the innocence with which people on the brink of their ministry, or some of them already in it, ask questions in the seminar for practical theology--for example, whether one should really preach of Christ.  In the end, with some idealism and a bit of cunning, we will be finished even with this--that is their sort of mood.

The theological atmosphere of the Union Theological Seminary is accelerating the process of the secularization of Christianity in America.  Its criticism is directed essentially against the fundamentalists and to a certain extent also against the radical humanists in Chicago; it is healthy and necessary.  But there is no sound basis on which one can rebuild after demolition.  It is carried away with the general collapse.  A seminary in which it can come about that a large number of students laugh out loud in a public lecture at the quoting of a passage from Luther's De servo arbitrio on sin and forgiveness because it seems to them comic has evidently completely forgotten what Christian theology by its very nature stands for...

...Things are not much different in the church.  The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events.  As long as I've been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation, and that was delivered by a Negro (indeed, in general I'm increasingly discovering greater religious power and originality in Negroes).  One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak about Christianity....There's no sense to expect the fruits where the Word really is no longer being preached.  But then what becomes of Christianity per se?

She Could Have Said No  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today's feast of the Annunciation is one of the more outrageous commemorations on the church calendar, outrageous at least by the standards of 21st-century secularism, which impacts us all to some extent.  God communicates--via an angel--with  an illiterate Jewish peasant girl and asks her to get pregnant out of wedlock.  I was struck by  the following observation on this event posted on the site of St Paul's Antiochian Orthodox Church in Brisbane, Australia.  Hat tip to The Society of Catholic Priests.


When Mary the Virgin was about fourteen years old, the Archangel Gabriel came to Joseph's dwelling, where she was living, and said to her, "Rejoice, Thou Full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee:  blessed art Thou among women."  Receiving assurance that she had been chosen to be the Mother of God Himself, she answered in humility, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word."  Immediately, the Holy Spirit came upon her, the power of the Most High overshadowed her, and the Incarnation, long awaited by the whole creation, took place:  He who contains the whole universe consented to be contained in the womb of one woman, the most holy Theotokos.

The Church teaches us that it was within the Holy Virgin's power to refuse the divine conception:  her knowing and willing acceptance, the consummation of the faith of the whole righteous remnant of Israel, shows us that our very salvation is the fruit of the cooperation (synergia) of human faithfulness with God's saving grace.

Giving Up Anger For Lent  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I was invited to give this morning's homily, followed by group discussion, at Mt Calvary Monastery (Anglican Order of the Holy Cross) in Santa Barbara, California.  The Gospel text was Matt 5: 20-26.  A few days earlier I fortunately came across the quote from St Basil the Great which provided the conceptual hook for my remarks.


The Gospel:  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  You have heard that it was said to the men of old, "You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgement."  But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says "you fool!" shall be liable to the hell of fire.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.

The homily:  Anger is hard to get rid of.  It gets enmeshed with our ego.  We don't like having people cheat us or walk over us.  Sometimes it seems like our anger is the only thing no one can take away. 

Religious people are definitely not anger-proof.  Perhaps we are even more susceptible to anger, at least the deeply-rooted sort of anger, because we're taught from an early age that repressing anger is somehow virtuous.  I've heard a number of people in vows say that obedience is the toughest, tougher than poverty or celibacy, because, of the three, it has the greatest potential for generating anger.  Evagrius Ponticus, in his fourth-century work on prayer, spends more time talking about anger than about lust or gluttony or greed.  So this business of anger has been around for a while.

When I was younger, most of my anger was directed towards women who didn't want to go out with me, or who blew me off after one date.  I've been with a terrific woman for 37 years now, but I still have to deal with my other major source of anger, the Church.  For various reasons, the Church periodically slams doors in my face.  I once lost my temper with a former rector and called him  a "fool", thereby making me liable, I suppose, to the "hell of fire".

What to do with  anger?  I am not a hermit on Mt Athos or a Tibetan rinpoche, so the notion that I might somehow evolve to the point where I am totally anger-free seems dangerously naive.  A few days ago I gratefully stumbled across a quote of St Basil the Great, another Church Father from the fourth century, that someone posted on Facebook.  It reads:

True fasting is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood and perjury.  Privation of these is true fasting.

Instead of beating ourselves over the head for not being able to let go of anger altogether, let's try to aim for an "anger fast", both during this Lent and during the days to follow.  Fasting from food is not a permanent condition.  Most of us will never totally get rid of anger, at least this side of the afterlife, but I think going on anger fasts of increasingly longer duration is quite reasonable--and doable. 

George Herbert and the Eucharist  

Posted by Joe Rawls

A concise treatment of Herbert's approach to the Eucharist can be found on the excellent Anglican Eucharistic Theology site, the work of Australian Anglican priest Dr Brian Douglas (see the link in the outer sidebar).  Herbert's views are contained in A Priest to the Temple, or the Country Parson, published after his death in 1633.  His poem, The Holy Communion, is particularly expressive in this regard.


Herbert's poem expresses the view that Christ is present and conveyed...not in rich or golden things, but in the ordinary elements of bread and wine.  The presence of Christ is able to be fully in the person who receives ("which spread their force in every part") and to deal effectively with sin ("Meeting sinnes force and art").  The elements convey what they signify ("Onely thy grace, which with these elements comes") and are the means of grace in the life of the person who receives them.  The idea of the heavenly communion is again mentioned ("my bodie also thither") and it is in this communion that a person is joined to Christ ("Them both to be together").  Clearly the Eucharist is distinguished from other earthly food in the final verse and so the implication of the poem is that the presence of Christ in the elements is not a fleshly or immoderate presence, yet a real presence, to "which I can go."  It must be assumed then that Herbert's theology of the Eucharist is that of moderate realism. 

St Scholastica  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today is the feast day of Scholastica, the twin sister of Benedict of Nursia.  She was a monastic in her own right, and was abbess of a women's community at Plombariola, about 5 miles from Monte Cassino.  All that we know of her is contained in the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great.  This is, of course, a hagiography and not an "objective" work of history.  Be that as it may, the following excerpt illustrates how love can trump monastic rules and even the laws of nature.  It is found in chapters 33 and 34 of the Dialogues.


His sister, named Scholastica, was dedicated from her infancy to our Lord.  Once a year she came to visit her brother.  The man of God went to her not far from the gate of his monastery, at a place that belonged to the Abbey.  It was there he would entertain her.  Once upon a time she came to visit according to her custom, and her venerable brother with his monks went there to meet her.

They spent the whole day in the praise of God and spiritual talk, and when it was almost night, they dined together.  As they were yet sitting at the table, talking of devout matters, it began to get dark.  The holy nun, his sister, entreated him to stay there all night that they might spend it in discoursing of the joys of heaven.  By no persuasion, however, would he agree to that, saying that he might not by any means stay all night outside of his Abbey.

At that time, the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen.  The nun, hearing this denial of her brother, joined her hands together, laid them on the table, bowed her head on her hands, and prayed to almighty God.

Lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightening and thundering, and such abundance of rain, that neither venerable Benedict, nor his monks that were with him, could put their heads out of doors...

The man of God, seeing that he could not...return to his abbey, began to complain to his sister, saying:  "God forgive you, what have you done?"  She answered him, "I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me; I have desired it of our good Lord, and he has granted my petition.  Therefore if you can now depart, in God's name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone."

But the good father, not being able to leave, tarried there against his will where before he would not have stayed willingly.  By that means, they watched all night and with spiritual and heavenly talk mutually comforted one another...

...The next day the venerable woman returned to her monastery and the man of God to his abbey.  Three days later, standing in his cell, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he beheld the soul of his sister (which was departed from her body) ascend into heaven in the likeness of a dove. 

The Presentation in the Temple  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today's feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple--widely known as Candlemas in the Western Church--has as its overriding image the manifestation of the light of Jesus and our reception of it. This is well expressed in a sermon of Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (560-638).  It can be found in PG 87, 3, 3291-3293.


In honor of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ.  Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.

Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light.  Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ. 

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness.  We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.

The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness.  This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him...

The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world.  Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light.  Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so  filled with it that no one remains in the darkness.  Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal...

...By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem.  Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God.  Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel.  Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in its honor.

How High Are Anglo-Catholics?  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Anglo-Catholics get a bad rap--sometimes justified, of course--as liturgical fussbudgets, concerned only with liturgical minutiae and with replicating the way things were done in the Roman Catholic Church prior to Vatican II.   A more sensible and accurate view of Anglo-Catholicism is found in What is Anglo-Catholicism by Rev John D Alexander, SSC.  The final part of the essay lists nine ways that Anglo-Catholics are "high", all of them much more substantial than lace surplices. A hat-tip to Rev Canon Robert Hendrickson.


1.  A High View of God.  Anglo-Catholic worship at its best cultivates a sense of reverence, awe, and mystery in the presence of the Holy One...

2.  A High View of Creation... The Anglo-Catholic view of the world is highly sacramental; in worship we gather up the best of creation--as reflected in art, craftsmanship, music, song, flowers, incense, etc--and offer it all back up to God.

3.  A High View of the Incarnation...God became man in order to transform human existence through participation in his divine life.

4.  A High View of the Atonement...The image of Jesus on the cross reminds us of the depth and horror of human sin, and of the price that God has paid for our redemption...Many Anglo-Catholics find the sacrament of Penance an indispensable aid in this process. 

5.  A High View of the Church...We regard the universal church neither as an institution of merely human origin, nor as a voluntary association of individual believers, but as a wonderful mystery...

6.  A High View of the Communion of Saints....We have fellowship with all who live in Christ.  Anglo-Catholicism thus affirms the legitimacy of praying for the dead, and of asking the saints in heaven for their prayers.

7.  A High View of the Sacraments...Holy Baptism establishes our identity once for all as children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven...And in the Holy Eucharist, Christ becomes objectively present in the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood...

8.  A High View of Holy Orders...Anglo-Catholicism has borne witness that the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons in apostolic succession is God-given...

9.  A High View of Anglicanism.  We affirm that the Anglican Churches are truly part of Christ's Holy Catholic Church...Since the days of the Oxford Movement, our standard has been the faith and practice of the ancient, undivided Church...

Epiphany Proclamation 2014  

Posted by Joe Rawls

A couple of days late, but still relevant, is the Epiphany Proclamation, an ancient custom in which the dates  of Easter and other important moveable feasts were solemnly announced after the reading of the Gospel on the Feast of the Epiphany. 


Dear brothers and sisters,

The glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return.

Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation. 

Let us recall the year's culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord:  his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the seventeenth day of April and the evening of the nineteenth day of April, Easter Sunday being on the twentieth day of April.

Each Easter--as on each Sunday--the Holy Church makes present the great and saving death by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.  From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the fifth day of March.

The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the twenty-ninth day of May.

Pentecost, joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the eighth day of June.

And, this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the thirtieth day of November.

Likewise the Pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever.