Ignatius IV on the Holy Spirit  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Patriarch Ignatius IV, leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Church from 1979 until his repose in 2012, was born in Syria in 1920 as Habib Hazim.  He was educated in his native country and graduated from the Institute St Serge in Paris.  Below follows a brief but profound meditation on the Holy Spirit.  Hat-tip to the always stimulating Eclectic Orthodoxy site.


Without the Holy Spirit
God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church is simply an organization,
authority a matter of dominion,
mission a matter of propaganda,
the Liturgy no more than an evocation,
Christian living a slave morality.

But in the Holy Spirit
the cosmos is resurrected and
grows with the birth pangs of the Kingdom,
the Risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating service,
mission a Pentecost,
the Liturgy both memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified.

Pope Francis on the Desert Fathers  

Posted by Joe Rawls

During his recent visit to Egypt, Pope Francis addressed an assembly of Roman Catholic priests and religious stationed in that country.  His talk was focused on seven temptations facing religious and how a knowledge of the Desert Fathers is relevant to their struggles.  The complete article appears in the website Aletheia (aletheia.org/2017/04/29/look-to-the-desert......./).


1.  The temptation to let ourselves be led, rather than to lead.

2.  The temptation to complain constantly.

3.  The temptation to gossip and envy.

4.  The temptation to compare ourselves to others.

5.  The temptation to become like Pharaoh.

6.  The temptation to individualism.

The temptation to keep walking without direction or destination.

Leo the Great on the Annunciation  

Posted by Joe Rawls

From a letter of Pope Leo I  Epist 28 ad Flavianum, PL 54, 763-767

Lowliness is assured by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity.  To pay the debt of our sinsul state, a nature that is incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer.  Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ was able to die in one nature, and unable to die in the other.

He who is true God was therefore born in the complete and perfect nature of a true man, whole in his own nature, whole in ours.  By our nature we mean what the Creator had fashioned in us from the beginning, and took to himself in order to restore it.

He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity.  He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men.  Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence.  So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.

He was born in a new condition, for, invisible in his own nature, he became visible in ours.  Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp.  Existing before time began, he began to exist in a moment in time.  Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant.  Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering.  Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.

Gregory of Nyssa on Eucharistic Presence  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today's commemoration of Gregory of Nyssa brings a quote from his Great Catechism (ca 383).  It talks about the fact that Jesus is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist, but in typical Orthodox fashion, it does not greatly elaborate the manner in which this happens.  The translation used is found in The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol 2, WA Jurgens ed, The Liturgical Press 1979, p 49


Since it has been shown that it is not possible for our body to become immortal except it be made participant in incorruption through communion with the Immortal, it is necessary to consider how it is possible for that One Body, though distributed always to so many myriads of the faithful throughout the world, to be whole in its apportionment to each individual, while yet it remains whole in itself...This Body, by the indwelling of God the Word, has been made over to divine dignity.  Rightly then, do we believe that the bread consecrated by the word of God has been made over into the Body of God the Word.  For that Body was, as to its potency, bread; but it has been consecrated by the lodging there of the Word, who pitched His tent in the flesh.  From the same cause, therefore, by which the bread that was made over into that Body is made to change into divine strength, a similar result now takes place.  As in the former case, in which the grace of the Word made holy that body the substance of which is from bread, and in a certain manner is itself bread, so in this case too, the bread, as the Apostle says, "is consecrated by God's word and by prayer"; not through its being eaten does it advance to become the Body of the Word, but it is made over immediately into the Body by means of the word, just as was stated by the Word, "This is My Body!"...In the plan of His grace He spreads Himself to every believer by means of that Flesh, the substance of which is from wine and bread, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, so that by this union with the Immortal, man, too, may become a participant in incorruption.  These things He bestows through the power of the blessing which transforms the nature of the visible things to that of the Immortal.

Martin Thornton and Anglican Ressourcement  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Fr Matthew Dallman is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Springfield (USA).  He heads up Akenside Press, an imprint devoted to Anglicanism's Catholic heritage.  Particular emphasis is placed on the writings of Martin Thornton (1915-1986), a priest of the Church of England  perhaps best known for English Spirituality.  Thornton's writings can be considered a ressourcement, a return to the Catholic wellsprings of Anglican theology and spirituality.  Dallman has condensed these sources into a very useful diagram reproduced above.  Below can be found some explanatory material on the chart taken from the Akenside website.


I would propose that Martin Thornton has given Anglicanism a permanent gift, which is his book, English Spirituality. This book is already well-loved and appreciated in Anglicanism, certainly in the United States. It is the go-to book to discuss ascetical theology and is a resource for pastoral theology. But I would argue that neither application exhausts the book’s gift. No, its true significance is more profound: it is nothing less than a thorough map of Anglican theology in its lineage, prepared for ressourcement. That is to say, from Thornton, we have a clear sense of what the core curriculum of renewal is, and should be, for Anglican theology. His might be the very first instance that the contours of our school of theology have been thoroughly and concisely articulated.
Thornton never used the term ressourcement, but I doubt he would disagree strongly with this analysis of his work. (My  master’s thesis is on his corpus.) In any event, all are advised to pull out their copy of English Spirituality and give it serious attention in this new light. I will not rehearse here the extended argument that Thornton makes, because it is nuanced and does require participation in Anglican liturgical and sacramental life to fully appreciate (as any school would require).

John McGuckin on the Jesus Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Fr John Anthony McGuckin (b 1952) has joint professorial appointments at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University.  A native of England, he was raised Roman Catholic and was a member of the Passionist religious order.  He converted to Orthodoxy in 1989 and was ordained a priest in the Romanian Orthodox Church.  He is a specialist in Patristic theology and history with about 100 scholarly publications to his credit.  One of these, "Eastern Orthodox Prayer:  the Rasskaz strannika" is a detailed study of the editorial history and underlying theology and spirituality of The Way of a Pilgrim.  It is chapter 8 of Contemplative Literature: A Comparative Sourcebook on Meditation and Contemplative Prayer, Louis Komjathy ed, SUNY Press 2015.  The excerpt below is found on p 380.


The tradition of the Pilgrim is rooted, of course, in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  That pathway of the Jesus Prayer is rooted in the larger scheme of what is known as the Hesychast movement.  This extends back to classical Christian antiquity, but came to a refined restatement from the thirteenth century onward and began a new wave of monastic revivals.  In the instance of the Pilgrim, this Hesychastic school was breaking out of the monastery and trying to make its way into ordinary, "secular" life.  Hesychasm derives from the Greek word for "quietness" (hesychia).  It sketches out a state of spiritual awareness where the body is first stilled by simple repetitive stances or actions (standing still, moving a prayer rope, and such), and the mind is given simple tasks of repetitive short phrases or words (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy--in the case of the Jesus Prayer) in order that the heart (by which the Hesychast school means the spiritual soul-awareness of a person [aisthesis noetikos], one's sense of God's presence to one and the world) may stand before God in a continuous awareness "beyond the range of words."  This stasis (the Greek word means a drawn-out condition, a stable state) is barely possible given the fragmented nature of human psychical awareness.  In prayer that is silent, imageless, and wordless, it takes only a matter of seconds before the normal freewheeling nature of the human imagination "fills the gaps" with psychic junk:  daydreams, distractions, thoughts of a hundred different things.  The Jesus Prayer that the Pilgrim uses, therefore, was meant as a mountaineer's rope--a way of ascending a difficult peak, a tool to rise out of normal states of ragged and dissipated consciousness into a sustained concentration on the awareness of God's immanent presence.  The physical posture of the prayer, the mental fixation on a few simple words, and the ultimate release of the heart's deeper awareness to be focused on God:  this is all the fabric of the structure of a system of prayer that is meant to be an aid to radical concentration, but concentration that is free, relaxed, nonideational.  And that is the point;  so that prayer might rise from being a matter of what we have to say to God into being enabled to hear what God might actually be saying to us.

Deification in the Rule of Benedict  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Trappist oblate Carl McColman gives us a sermon by a monk of his monastery discussing a reference to deification found in the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict, a fairly rare occurrence in the writings of the Western Fathers.


This morning at mass, Father Tom Francis (who works with me at the Abbey Store) preached on the Rule and on his life experience as a Trappist monk for over 50 years now. During the sermon, he mentioned a conversation that he and I and another Lay Cistercian had a while back about a phrase in the prologue to the Holy Rule of St. Benedictet apertis oculis nostris ad deificum lumen, which is often translated as “Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God,” but which might more properly be translated as “Let us open our eyes to the deifying light.” I asked Fr. Tom about this, and he agreed with me that this is a rare example of a western mystic acknowledging the mystery of deification — and expanded on this in this morning’s sermon, which, by permission of Father Tom, I am happy to reprint here:
11 July 2008 — Feast of St. Benedict — Homily by Fr. Thomas Francis, OCSO
In 1951, I was given a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict, which eventually had to have its cover replaced, as the original one wore out. I can now say, “See, I have kept the Rule all these years!” I remember an aphorism of those days, given by both the Abbot and Novice Master and in all Religious Orders: “You keep the Rule and the Rule will keep you.” Of course that was a bum steer, a cliché of Religious life since the Council of Trent, when motivation for the following centuries was based mostly on “Keeping rules and regulations.” We are fortunate indeed to have had the Vatican Council re-examine these worn-out cliches, and restore us to Gospel values, rather than emphasizing conduct based on written law..
Two weeks ago in the Abbey Store, we had an interesting conversation in our store, between Carl, our book buyer, Paco and myself. It concerned the Latin word used in the Prologue : in the expression, “Let us open our eyes to the deifying light.”. The term deificum is a rare Latin word, translated from the Greek word for “making divine”, what they referred to as “theosis” = divinizing, making God-like. That was their term for striving, as the Latin West preferred to say, for holiness, sanctification, perfection. The Greek Fathers, to this day, urge both monks and laity to Theosis, striving to become God-like, divinized. Benedict seized on the term, and used its adjectival form “deificum lumen.” Thomas Merton quoted the line in our reading from The Waters of Siloe at the Night Office this very morning.. Unfortunately neither he, nor Benedict, nor the vast majority of Latin writers unpacked the meaning of both the word and its full significance. Benedict used the adjective to modify “light”, a symbol for “divine meaning, intelligibility.”
But in order NOT to be repetitive of past views, I would hope to be a bit creative with this term, and apply it to silence: silentium, “deificum silentium” — a value that pervades the Rule of Benedict
Silence, as you all know, is not a virtue, like charity ,patience or humility. One does not make acts of silence. Rather it is a condition, a milieu, an environment in which something else takes place. We have been sharing on silence and solitude in our community discussions recently. As is well known, Benedict not only devoted a chapter (chapter 6) to this “condition”, but all through the Rule brings up its importance and value. For instance, in chapter 42, it is announced as the guiding principle of the whole of monastic life: “ At all times silence is to be cultivated by the monks, especially at night.” Complete silence in refectory and oratory; It’s value is mentioned in chapter 4 (good works), chapter 7 (humility), and elsewhere. So far I have merely repeated when and where this value of silence is expected.
But as is my usual procedure, I’d like to start pushing the envelope. In the teaching of Jesus Himself on Prayer, He instructs all of us, “When you pray, go into your chamber ( your heart), close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” The operative phrase, as I see it, is “close the door” = keep completely still, silent = shut down your normal consciousness, with its operations of thinking, desiring, imagining and remembering, especially and particularly the religious, biblical, ascetical, ideas, symbols, values, quotations.
“Be still (silent), in the depths and totality of your be-ing, and know that I am God. I am the God that is divinizing you, making you God-like, and your principal role is to be silent, let the “deifying silence” of God divinize you. And let me push the envelope even further: “let the Triune God trinitize you = make you aware of the Trinity dwelling within you and the cosmos. Such is the kind of prayer Benedict wants for us monks; indeed, it is for all Christians.
Let me end by quoting a line from our own Blessed Rafael Baron: “Let us be silent. Let us keep silence, for in it we will find our treasure, which is God” Triune! And so, whether you stick to the “deifying light” of the literal Rule, or the Trinitizing Love of a more “complete” interpretation, do have an enjoyable day!
I told Father Tom after the mass that I believe this is the first time I have ever heard the Mystery of Deification addressed from a Christian pulpit. I hope it won’t be the last.