31 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

And why do I speak about martyrs? For if their Master is not ashamed to be our Head, by far more are they unashamed to be our limbs. For they possess a love that is firmly rooted, and it is the way of love to join and bind together what is divided, and it doesn't scrutinize the value. So then, just as they join in grieving for our sin, so we join in rejoicing over their good works. This is in fact what Paul ordered us to do, when he said to "rejoice with those who rejoice," and to "weep with those who weep." (Rom 12:15) - St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Saint Romanus, par. 2

30 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

"That I shall be merciful to their wrongdoings and I shall no longer store in my memory their lawless ways." What did he mean? Here he indicates baptism and forgiveness through grace. This happened not under the law, but under the new covenant. For under the law there was punishment and torture and penalty punishing those who transgressed its edicts. Under the new covenant, grace and forgiveness of wrongdoings and absolution. That's why Paul also said: "Because God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not counting up their faults against them and placing on us the ministration of that reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). Which is what the prophet says too: "I shall be merciful to their wrongdoings and I shall no longer store in my memory their sins."... when the law was dissolved, no one demanded payment for sins but each received forgiveness for his wrongdoings. - St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Eleazar and the Seven Boys (preaching on Jeremiah 31)

29 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

How, then, isn't it absurd that in all worldly matters we put labors ahead of pleasure, and risks ahead of security, and this when the expected out of those labors is of little value and trivial; yet when it's heaven that lies ahead of us and angelic honors and a life that has no end and spending time with angels and the blessings of which one can neither conceive nor speak, we expect to achieve them through laziness and indolence and a dissolute soul and not to dignify them with the same effort as worldly matters? Don't, please, don't let's plan so badly for ourselves and for our salvation, but look to these saints, these noble and brave athletes, who have been given us in place of torches, and amend our life to their own courage and patience, so that after we depart this life by their prayers we might be able to both see and embrace them and be assigned to their heavenly dwellings. May we attain all these blessings through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom and with whom be glory to the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen. - St. John Chrysostom, *An Encomium on Egyptian Martyrs*

28 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

Did you hear Abraham saying in the Old Testament: "They will keep you for themselves, but will kill me"? Did you hear Jacob saying: "Snatch me away, Lord, from the hand of Esau, my brother, because I am afraid of him"? Did you see Elijah fleeing a woman's threat because of death? Hear how Paul is disposed regarding this matter - whether he considers it terrifying like they; whether he's distressed when it's approaching, and is afraid. To the contrary, he even thought the thing desirable. For this reason he says: "That I may depart and be with Christ is far better." To them it was terrifying, to him better. To them unpleasant, to him a pleasure. And rightly so! For previously death led us down into Hades. Now death sends us on to meet Christ.
- St. John Chrysostom, Sermon on Saints Bernike, Prosdoke, and Domnina, par. 9

Homily for Judica (Passion Sunday)

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it and was glad." So says our Lord in today's Gospel to the Jews. What did he mean? When did Abraham ever see Jesus' day? When did it fill his heart with joy? Well, we heard about it in today's first reading.

Faithful Abraham takes the wood for the offering and lays it on the back of his beloved son. Faithful Abraham takes in hand the fire and the knife. Faithful Abraham tells his servants: “The boy and I will go over there and worship, and then we shall come back to you.” Faithful Abraham and the beloved son move together toward the appointed mountain of sacrifice. And the beloved son, the child whose name meant laughter, the promised one through whose seed God would bring blessing to all the families of the earth, Isaac, notices that something is missing. He asks: “Father, we have the fire and the wood. But where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Faithful Abraham, seeing the Day of our Lord, answered his son in a remarkable prophesy: “God will provide himself a Lamb for the offering, my only son.”

What Abraham foresaw was not what took place shortly afterward on Mount Moria. For there, the life of Isaac was spared as the angel of the Lord revealed to Abraham a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.

Abraham did indeed offer up the ram in place of his son. Isaac’s life was spared by the mercy of God. But did you notice what Abraham called the place? “Yahweh Yireh.” The Lord WILL see to it; and to this day it is said, on the mountain of the Lord it WILL Be seen to. Will be, future tense. Not has been, past tense.

Abraham knew well enough that the ram was not the Lamb, but that the ram pointed to the Lamb, even as did his son, Isaac. For the day was coming when God would indeed provide– quite literally – himself as the Lamb for the offering. The day was coming when wood would be laid across the back of another Father’s beloved and only Son. The day was coming when that Father’s Son would climb a mountain with that wood upon his back, and this time, no ram in the thicket. This time, when the Son is bound to the wood for the offering, there is no angel to stay anyone’s hands. This time the hammer blows fall, the nails pierce, and the Lamb is spitted and hoisted high. This time the Son offers Himself to the Father in infinite love for our fallen race, and the Father in infinite love accepts and rejoices in the Son’s self-offering. “It is finished” he cried. The sins of all wiped out and the death of all destroyed.

“Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see my day.” Christ meant the day of His sacrifice's culmination. The day when the High Priest of the good things to come would enter with His own blood into the Most Holy Place in heaven once and for all, having obtained an eternal redemption. The day when the Mediator of the New Testament, by means of His death, would redeem everyone from their transgressions so that they might receive the promised eternal inheritance. (Epistle)

But what makes this sacrifice of the Lord Jesus so powerful that it can wipe out the sins of the world? How can the spilling of one man’s blood – even though He is the perfect man who never sinned – still, how can His blood blot out every accusation of the Law of God against you? Listen! He who is truth and does not lie, tells you: “Before Abraham was, I Am.”

Not by accident did they take up stones to kill him when they heard him say that. He had just made a claim that they could not misunderstand. In those words Jesus told them (and everyone who will ever hear them) that He is Yahweh. That it is He who called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees and set him apart and promised that through him blessing would come to all families of the earth. He spoke to Moses in the burning bush and revealed His name: “I am who I am.” He led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt. He parted the sea. He led them through on dry ground. He provided them manna from heaven in their forty-year wandering. He brought them into the promised land. He gave them their inheritance there. He sent them prophets to call them to repentance and faith, and now He had come among them in their own flesh and blood, to do for them and for all what He alone could do: yield His sinless life as the offering to take away the sins of the world. Not, however, by stoning, but by being crucified. And since His hour had not yet come, He hid himself and went out from the temple. But His hour would come; the moment when the Lamb foretold by Abraham would be sacrificed so that through Abraham’s Seed blessing – the blessing of eternal life – might indeed come upon all families of the earth.

So, then, when Jesus suffers, it is divine suffering. And when He bleeds, it is divine blood. And when He dies, it is a divine death. Who would dare to put a value on such suffering, blood, and death? The suffering, blood and death of God the Eternal Son is beyond calculation, without price! And that is Who ransomed you. He
thought you were worth that! Me too! Is that awesome or what?

Nor is that the end of the story. Because He knows how hard it is for us to believe that, and to hold on to it, on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided. What God once offered for you on Golgotha, He now offers to you on His altar – built up, you notice, like a little mountain. Here He gives you to eat and to drink as the continual memorial of His sacrifice, His body and His blood and He tells you that it is all for you: given in your place; poured out in your place, to blot out your sins. Here, He, who is before Abraham was, eternally is, comes to you, to be Your Lamb. Amen.

27 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

Sacred love, permeating all from first to last, from head to foot, joins all to itself, links them up, ties together and unites, renders them strong and unshakable. In experience, it reveals itself to each man as one and the same. It is God with Whom the last may be first and the first last. - St. Simeon the New Theologian, *Practical and Theological Precepts* (#156)

26 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

The Son of God has become the Son of Man in order to make us, men, sons of God, raising our race by grace to what He is Himself by nature, granting us birth from above through the grace of the Holy Spirit and leading us straightway to the kingdom of heaven, or rather, granting us the kingdom of heaven within us, in order that we should not merely be fed by the hope of entering it, but entering into full possession thereof should cry: our 'life is hid with Christ in God.'

Baptism does not destroy our self-will and wilfulness, but it frees us from the tyranny of the devil, who can no longer rule over us against our will. After baptism, it begins to lie within our will either of our own accord to obey the commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ, in Whose name were baptised, or to deviate from the right path, and return again to the devil, our adversary and foe.

- St. Simeon the New Theologian, *Practical and Theological Precepts* par. 120, 121

[I was struck by the similarity in thought in the second paragraph to the Formula's treatment in SD II:67, 68]

25 March 2006

The Annunciation of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ

“And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The Virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel...”

I stand amazed before the Maiden, and she looks in amazement at me. But my amazement is greater than hers. She is amazed at my appearing to her but I am amazed at the tidings I bring her. For she shall be a mother, though she knows not a man. She shall conceive in her womb and bring forth a son, though a virgin she shall be and remain. But it is who her son will be that fills me with greatest awe. For this Child that shall be born of her shall truly be hers. A human being exactly as she is a human being. A creature of flesh and blood. A creature that grows from childhood to adulthood. A creature that eats and sleeps and breathes and all that attends being human. Such a creature will her son be.

And that is why I stare at her in awe. For the little child that shall soon be conceived in her womb and that she shall feed at her breast is none other than the Son of the Highest, God the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father through whom I was made, through whom she was made, through whom all things are made. She shall be mother of the Maker. She shall be mother of the Eternal One who was before the stars began their shining or the planets began their great dance. She shall be mother of Him whom it is our delight to serve and worship and praise world without end.

The Child she bears shall reign over David’s house forever. The promise of the Kingdom that has no end is fulfilled in Him. A forever Kingdom! O Lady, do you know what that means? He will reign through endless days and those over whom He reigns will live in endless life. Lady, do you know that you will carry in your womb Him through whom death itself will be destroyed? Lady, do you know that through the deeds of your Son the sin that separates the human race from the all-holy Father will be covered, atoned, pardoned? Lady, do you know how He will do it? No. I can see that you do not know. That is best for now. The day will come when you stand on a darkened hill and see a sight of love so grievous that it will tear your soul in two. But it will be His love for you and for your fallen race that drives Him to it, Lady. So rejoice!

And do not worry yourself over how this promise I bring you will be fulfilled. God knows that you are a virgin. But His Holy Spirit will overshadow you and fill you and change you and inside of you Life Himself will begin to grow and so the Holy One born of you will indeed be my Master, my Lord, my God. It is impossible for any word of God to fail. His promises are more certain than heaven and earth. He said it and so, Lady, rejoice and be glad. It shall be so.

Meekly do I see you bow your head. Meekly do I hear you utter the words: “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord.” Meekly do I hear you say: “Let it be to me as you have said.” And so the moment has come and the great time of God’s keeping all his promises has begun. Begun in you, Lady. Begun in your womb, which He shall make His holy temple and His home for the next nine months during which His tiny infant heart will beat beneath your own, till that moment when the Lord blesses you and keeps you and makes His face shine upon you and gives you peace; that moment when your baby looks at you and nestles at your breast and closes his eyes in the peace and the warmth of your embrace. As you will hold him, so even now, does He hold you and all welcome Him.

Farewell, then, Lady until we meet once more, until together we bow before the Child you will bear and worship at His feet and give Him eternal praise in the Kingdom He comes to prepare, in the presence of all who have trusted in Your Son for forgiveness and salvation, in the life that has no end, where the joys are eternal and where the sorrows are forgotten. Farewell, Vessel of His grace! Farewell, Temple of the Presence! Farewell, Mary, child of David, child of Abraham, Mother of God! Farewell.

“And the angel departed from her.”

23 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

It is the one Savior of his body, our Lord Jesus Christ, who prays for us and in us and is himself the object of our prayers. He prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our head, he is the object of our prayers as our God. - St. Augustine, Commentary on the Psalms

21 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

The Israelites saw the Lord's mighty power at work when He led them out of Egypt, but you have experienced even greater wonders. Instead of seeing Pharoah and his army drowning in the sea, you witnessed the devil and his forces swallowed up in the waters of baptism. The Israelites passed through the sea; you have passed from death to life. They were rescued from the Egyptians; you have been rescued from evil spirits. They were delivered from slavery in a foreign land; you have have been delivered from something worse - slavery to sin. - St. John Chrysostom

Happy Birthday, Bekah!

Today the beautiful Rebekah Lee turns 15. And she already got her birthday present - her very own cell-phone. Now she is officially a REAL teenager (this is said to be determined by the possession of the phone, not her actually getting older). I still remember the day this girl was born - a beautiful and warm day in North Carolina, Spring in full swing. Looking outside the window today...well, a little different. Several inches of snow. I love snow, but NOT on my daughter's birthday. Ick! Nevertheless, may God grant her a joyful year of growth in His grace and love. We love, you Bekah Boo!

20 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

[Because the Sundays of Lent are privileged, the Commemoration of St. Joseph is tranferred to today even though it fell yesterday]

If the Patriarch Joseph (sold by his brethren through envy, and forced into servitude in Egypt) was a type of Christ sold by his brethren and handed over to the Gentiles, the other Joseph (forced through the envy of Herod to flee into Egypt) did in actual fact bring Christ amongst the Egyptian Gentiles. The first Joseph (keeping faith with his lord) would not carnally know his lord's lady. The second Joseph (spiritually knowing the Lady who was the Mother of his Lord to be virgin) kept faithfully virgin toward her. To the first Joseph was given to know dark things in the interpretation of dreams. To the second Joseph was given in sleep to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. - St. Bernard

19 March 2006

Homily for third Lenten Midweek

[Third in our series of midweek homilies focusing on the readings for the Easter Vigil]

Two weeks ago we rejoiced in Baptism as putting us into the eighth day of a new creation through the Resurrection of Christ. Last week we rejoiced in Baptism as the gift of death and new life. Tonight we see that our Baptism into Christ means exodus. It means leaving behind slavery and embracing freedom; it means leaving behind fear and embracing peace; it means leaving behind sorrow and embracing joy.

Before a person is baptized they are asked to do a strange thing. We ask it of children (who speak through their sponsors). We ask it of adults. It is called the renunciation. Do you renounce Satan? And all his works? And all his ways? This before the profession of faith. Years ago, the renunciation was made facing West, the place of the dying light, and the last act was actually spitting at Satan. Then the person was literally lifted up, faced east toward the rising sun and asked to confess faith in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What on earth was the point of all that? It was meant to show and confess that in Baptism, Christ sets his people free from their bondage to Satan, to sin, and yes, even to death.

When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt he prefigured for all time what he planned and intended to do for the whole human race through his Son. The children of Israel lived in Egypt as in exile. They knew it wasn’t home. They were not free. They were forced to work for others. Their lives were tears and hardship and backbreaking labor. But God in his great mercy had not forgotten his people. He sent them his servant Moses. Through the mounting tension of the ten plagues God hammered home to Pharaoh the message: “Let my people go!” Pharaoh’s heart was hard. He did not want to let the children of Israel go free. But finally he could not stand up to the terrible plague brought by the angel of death. He told the children of Israel to go, to get out.

And go they went. Moses led them and he led them in a peculiar way. He led them right up against the shores of the Red Sea. And in the time it had taken Moses to lead them there, Pharaoh had hardened his heart once more and all his armed might was sent to go and bring back the children of Israel, to make them slaves again.

At the shore of the sea, with their enemies closing in behind them, and nothing but water in front of them, God effected a mighty deliverance. His wind, His spirit, blew upon the waters and the waters parted and a way opened up right through the midst of the sea itself. The children of Israel raced into the heart of the sea and walked through towering walls of water on dry ground. When the Egyptians tried to pursue them, the waters collapsed and drowned horse and chariot. When it was all over, God’s children stood on the edge of the sea and looked back in fear and amazement. And then in overwhelming joy. Their slavery was really over! It was ended! God had brought them out with a mighty hand and an oustretched arm. The water had cut them off from the power of their enemies and they were free!

If you want to ever understand the joy of the first Christians over Easter, you must understand it from the perspective of this event. Just listen to one of the hymns we sing: “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness; God hath bro’t His Israel into joy from sadness. Loosed from Pharaoh's bitter yoke, Jacob's son and daughters, led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.” The whole sad story of Israel in the land of Egypt was like the story of the whole human race. We were living in exile, born in a land that was not our true home, enslaved to sin, living in fear, and headed toward death. But into our darkness and sadness, God sent us a Mighty Deliverer. He broke the fetters that held us captive, he crushed Pharaoh Satan, and he led us straight through the waters to be a new people, a redeemed and rescued people. And the waters covered over and crushed our foes: sin, death, and the devil.

Baptism then marks a “cutting off” from the past. The beautiful prayer used in the Baptismal liturgy expresses this so well: “Almighty and everlasting God, who... didst drown obdurant Pharaoh with all his host in the Red Sea and didst safely lead Thy people Israel through the midst thereof, prefiguring thereby this washing of Thy Holy Baptism... look with favor upon this child and bless him in the Spirit with true faith that... being separated from the number of the unbelieving, he may be kept securely in the holy ark of the Christian Church and ever serve Thy name with fervent spirit and joyful hope.”

Baptism cuts us off from our slavery to Satan and to sin and to the “old ways” of unbelief in this world. It frees us from their tyranny! St. Paul put it like this: “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Rom 6:11-13) He could speak that way because he had just reminded of them of their Baptism in which they had been buried with Christ and given his new life to live as their very own life.

So in your Baptism, my friends, Christ has severed you from the allegiance to Satan to which were bound by Adam’s fall. Christ has led you through the waters to set you free from that old Pharaoh, free from fear, free from bondage, free from sin, and yes, yes, most glorious of all, free from death.

Death was one of those enemies that drowned in the water. Baptism cuts us off from death. It does that by transforming death itself. We always hear “death” and think right away of biological death. But biological death is only the fruit, the symptom of the real thing: spiritual death. Death is separation from Him who is Life. Death is alienation from God. By his embracing of the way of suffering and death, by His going to His Cross, our Lord Jesus Christ has filled even suffering and death with his life and light and love. He has transformed death itself into a passage to life: “Jesus lives and now is death but the gate to life immortal! This shall calm my trembling breath when I pass death’s gloomy portal. Faith shall cry as fails each sense: Jesus is my confidence!” This is the joy of the Church! This is God’s gift to you in your Baptism! You live now cut off from your enemies and headed under God’s protecting hand to the land of promise. Baptized into Christ, you have nothing to fear! Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory be to Him forever!

18 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

So let us take our part in the Passover prescribed by the law, not in a literal way, but according to the teaching of the Gospel; not in an imperfect way, but perfectly; not only for a time, but eternally. Let us regard as our home the heavenly Jerusalem, not the earthly one; the city glorified by angels, not the one laid waste by armies. We are not required to sacrifice young bulls or rams, beasts with horns and hoofs that are more dead than alive and devoid of feeling; but instead, let us join the choirs of angels in offering God upon his heavenly altar a sacrifice of praise. We must now pass through the first veil and approach the second, turning our eyes toward the Holy of Holies. I will say more: we must sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his passion by our sufferings, and honoring his blood by shedding our own. We must be ready to be crucified. - St. Gregory of Nazianzus, *Homily for Holy Week*

17 March 2006

In Honor of Saint Patrick

St. Patrick's Breastplate:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Patristic Quote for the Day

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am not one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim waits for you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity. - Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday

[In the setting of the homily, Christ is speaking these words to Adam. I've produced it as it appears in the Breviary. I suspect the troublesome words about "now I make them worship you as God" are to be understood from the context of Christ Himself confessing unity with Adam: "For your sake, I, your God, became your son." A bit over the top, but it really drives home the same point that Lewis did in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The thrones for which we are destined; the heights to which He has summoned us and prepared the way, and IS that way; and the shocking truth that the angels are made to SERVE us!]

16 March 2006

Homily for Oculi

St. John put it very simply: “This was the purpose of the appearing of the Son of God, to undo the work of the devil.” (1 John 3:8b). Jesus was doing just that – His work of setting free a man from a devil who held him speechless – when an argument broke out about him. By what power was he able to do this? Some actually said and thought that he was using Satan's power to drive the devils out.

Jesus is shocked by their illogic. He asks what happens to countries and families where people are fighting against each other? Do they stand strong or do they fall apart? They fall apart! Jesus asks: “Does it look to you like Satan’s kingdom is coming to pieces at the seams?” No way! Satan and all his demons are perfectly united in their opposition to the Kingdom of God and in their hatred and torture of the human race. There is no way that Jesus, breaking their power over human lives, could be doing so with their own power and permission.

Rather, this is how Jesus pictures the struggle: Satan is like a strong man, fully armed, who guards his own home and his goods. His home, unfortunately, is in the hearts and lives of humans. He lives there like a parasite, ultimately destroying the very lives that host him. And he guards his own home, always vigilant for any threat to his power.

But, says Jesus, along comes a stronger man – stronger than the strong man. That's our Lord! And he attacks Satan in the very place where he has set up his kingdom – the hearts of humanity. He attacks and defeats him there. He takes away his weapons on which he relied. His lies, his empty promises and deceits. And then he shows the devil the door; boots him out.

He exposes the lies of Satan above all by His cross - for there every lie that Satan has ever sold us on about our God is shown to be utterly false. The cross reveals the deepest truth about our God: His infinite love for all people that would bring Him to this immense suffering to take away the sin of the world and to destroy by His death the power of death. The cross reveals that God is pre-eminently FOR us. That He is on our side in this battle, that the Stronger One is our hero, come to do what we could never do for ourselves! And as our risen and reigning Lord He continues His great work of liberating folks from Satan's power.

How does he do all this in the lives of humanity? Listen to Dr. Luther on this: “For this task Christ left us designated instruments: holy baptism, the blessed Sacrament, the Word and absolution, and whatever else belongs to the ministry of preaching, in order to enable us to destroy the devil’s kingdom, to take from him his captives and cast him out of people. (HP 1, p. 330)”

Since we are all born under sin, rebels in our hearts, allied with Satan from birth, the first act of the Christian church in driving out the devil from the heart of men, is to baptize. In Baptism, Jesus arrives on the scene and shows Satan the door. It is not by accident that the first words of the Baptismal liturgy are: “Depart unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit!” That’s what Baptism does. It drives out the devil.

But Jesus warned that Satan does not give up easily. Once driven out, he constantly seeks for entrance back in. It’s torture for an unclean spirit not to be resting in a human host. Jesus spoke of them seeking a place of rest. And so Jesus not only left the Church Baptism to drive Satan out, but also Absolution, the Word, and the Eucharist. The faithful use of them KEEPS him out!

Luther again: “When a person whom the devil has greatly overwhelmed and seared with many accusations comes to me with heavy heart and troubled conscience seeking comfort and instruction, I have the mandate, as does every Christian, to comfort my brother and pronounce God’s grace for Christ’s sake upon him. The devil must yield, not to me, a poor and wretched sinner, but to the Word which the Lord Christ left us on earth. When your conscience is weak and terrified, therefore, and you are unable to grasp tightly enough the comfort that God graciously wants you to have, the forgiveness of sins, then know that Christ has given the Lord’s Supper, his true body and blood to eat and to drink, so that you have no reason further to doubt that his body was given for your sins and his blood poured out for your transgressions. Where such faith and trust are present, it is impossible for the devil to dwell and hold sway. This work, therefore, must continue apace in Christendom, in order to drive out the devil by the finger of God.” (HP 1, p. 330, 331)

The Church has no other weapons for her battle with Satan than these means of grace: Baptism, the Gospel of Christ Crucified and Risen, Absolution, and Eucharist. Through these Jesus continues even to this day the work that he began when he walked the earth: his liberation of the hearts of men from the oppression of the devil, and returning them to what they were intended to be, homes for the Triune God.

It is small wonder, then, that Satan works with might and main to divert us from the faithful use of these means of grace – always suggesting that something else might be more important, more pressing, more engaging and entertaining, or attempting to seduce us to make of use of them only in a ritualistic way, without trusting in the promises they make to us. In today’s Epistle Paul warns of being seduced by Satan’s lies into returning to the bondage we were in before Christ liberated us. “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light!” As though he were to say: don’t leave the light of Christ’s Word and Sacraments, through them let Jesus dwell within you to drive all the darkness away!

A woman cried out after hearing Jesus teach: “Blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus corrected her: “More blessed still are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” He wasn’t putting his mother down. He was teaching us that the blessed of Mary – a blessed we can all share in – is that she welcomed and treasured and guarded the Word of God in her heart. She would not let Satan rob her of that treasure and that is why she is blessed among women.

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. To drive him out and to keep him out. “Let us, therefore, thank God for his grace, because he has sent his Son for help against the devil, to drive him out, and has left us his Word through which today he yet performs this work, destroying Satan’s kingdom, building and extending the kingdom of God. God keep us in such grace through his son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. (HP 1, p. 343)” (Luther)

Patristic Quote for the Day

For the sake of suffering humanity he came down from heaven to earth, clothed himself in that humanity in the Virgin's womb, and was born a man. Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of fallen man upon himself; he triumphed over the diseases of soul and body that were its cause, and by his Spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt man's destroyer, death, a fatal blow. - Paschal Homily of Melito of Sardis

15 March 2006

The Sorrows of Death Compassed Me...

...yesterday we fed him with the bread of life, the very Body of Christ given for the forgiveness of sins, for the life of the world. Today he is with the Lord. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace" we sang in the ICU and He did.

She's facing a move to the nursing home. She hates the thought of it and what it means. Her son is suffering from cancer and in a room in the hospital not far from her own. It doesn't look good. Her daughter-in-law is under double-strain.

"The Lord doesn't give us more than we can bear" another friend said to me this week as she broke down, but she was really wondering if it was true. A parent's love for a child is beyond words.

Imogene called from Texas yesterday morning. She'd moved down there to be near her son. He died yesterday of pancreatic cancer. She's lost son and husband now. He'd come back to the Lord before he died; had received the Holy Eucharist. She had that comfort.

On and on and on. Is it any wonder the Church prays for mercy so often?

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

"then called I upon the name of the Lord." His name IS mercy. The Lord, the Lord, gracious and merciful. His gracious mercy shone in the gift of His Son into death for us. His gracious mercy shone in breaking the bonds of death and granting forgiveness to a a world. Help us believe, Lord. Help them all to cling to you!

Yet more Spring thoughts...

From the Akathist of thanksgiving:

Every flower is fragrant through the power of the Holy Spirit, in a delicate flow of aroma and tenderness of color; the beauty of the Great contained in what is small. Praise and honor to God Who gives life, Who spreads forth the meadows like a flowering carpet, Who crowns the fields with golden ears of wheat and azure basilisks, and the soul with the joy of contemplation. Let us rejoice and sing to Him: Alleluia!

How beautiful You are in the triumphant festival of spring, when all creatures come to life again and in a thousand ways joyfully call out to You; You are the source of life; You are the victor over death.

To the song of the nightingale, the valleys and forests stand in snow white bridal array by the light of the season. All the earth is Your bride, waiting for the immortal bridegroom. If You clothe even the grass is such splendid way, how will You transfigure us in the future age of resurrection, how will our bodies be made light and our souls be made luminous:

Glory to You, who brought out of the earth's darkness diversity of color, taste, and fragrance.
Glory to You, for the warmth and caress of all nature.
Glory to You, for surrounding us with thousands of Your creatures.
Glory to You, for the depth of Your wisdom reflected in the whole world.
Glory to You, I kiss reverently the footprint of Your invisible tread.
Glory to You, Who kindled before us the bright light of eternal life.
Glory to You, for the hope of immortal, ideal, incorruptible beauty.
Glory to You, O God, unto ages of ages!

Patristic Quote for the Day

It is he who was made man of the Virgin,
he who was hung on the tree;
it is he who was buried in the earth,
raised from the dead,
and taken up to the heights of heaven.
He is the mute lamb,
the slain lamb,
the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe.
He was seized from the flock,
dragged off to be slaughtered,
sacrificed in the evening,
and buried at night.
On the tree no bone of his was broken;
in the earth his body knew no decay.
He is the one who rose from the dead,
and who raised man from the depth of the tomb.
(Paschal Homily of Melito of Sardis)

Oh, and speaking of Spring...

As vicar and I were driving in St. Louis yesterday we saw the daffodils coming out all along Highway 40, fluttering and dancing in the breeze, and that reminds of ANOTHER poem - Wordsworth, this time:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

14 March 2006


As we drove to the Winkel today in Granite City, IL, vicar and I noticed the first greening of spring. And, as my son could tell you, whenever I notice that I HAVE to recite Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

Patristic Quote for the Day

In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained salvation for you; he suffered death in your nature, but by his own power gained life for you; he suffered insults in your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you. - St. Augustine, from a Homily for Invocabit

13 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

In his humility, Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humbled for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens - the proof, surely, of his power and godhead - his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven. - St. Andrew of Crete, Sermon for Palm Sunday

On the Use of My Writings...

...no, I didn't mean it like THAT. I meant when it comes to OTHERS making use of them...

A certain anonymous website has made much of the fact that a writing of mine was posted to a pro-Orthodox website dealing with helping Prots become Orthodox. A few facts:

1) I did not give permission for my writings to be posted on the site indicated.
2) The piece in question was originally posted on my blog in two separate places; my friend, Chris Orr (former WELS, now Orthodox), asked permission to put it on his blog and I gave that, in standing with an open policy on anything I write.
3) The piece in question, consists entirely of citations from the Lutheran Symbols; the unLutheran thing about this is?

I am somewhat at a loss to understand its usefulness to Orthodoxy, but whatever. It was intended to engender discussion about the nature of the "quia" subscription to the Symbols, a purely inter-Lutheran question, and one that was and is being discussed in the District I serve as the pastors of that District engage in a study of the Augsburg Confession.

So now you know...

12 March 2006

Hear ye! Hear ye!

It's all Vicar's fault. He bought it first, and I thought it looked really neat. Now I have my own copy and I honestly don't think I'll ever use anything else for my Bible: The Holy Bible 1611 Edition King James Version.

This remarkable publication of Hendrickson Publishing contains a photographic reprint of that classic 1611 translation. And it is THE WHOLE Bible - the Apocrpyha is included. There are table of readings (noting the major festivals and saint days of the year - for example, today is St. Gregory's Day) for Matins and Vespers. There are marginal notes when the scholars couldn't quite agree on the best rendering of the original into English. There are the delightfully unpredictable spellings - Psalm 58:4: "Their poison is like the poyson of a serpent; they are like the deafe adder that stoppeth her eare." Two different spelling of poison in the self-same verse!

If you are an English language buff, this version is a must. You can get your copy from Christian Book Distributors. You won't regret it!

[I should add that many Lutherans in America today are utterly unaware that until the adoption of English, no Bible published by CPH lacked the Apocrpha - it was because the Americans had dropped it from the KJV by then that the Lutherans allowed it to disappear, which is a crying shame. I think especially of something like Wisdom 2!]

Homily for Reminscere

I didn't preach today, but here is a sermon for this Sunday from last year...

Homily for Reminscere (2005)

If you want to make sense out of the readings for Lent you need to remember that this season was designed as an instruction period for those who were new to Christ. So the first Sunday in Lent introduces the newbees to the devil. Let’s them know that yes, there really is an enemy out there literally hell-bent on destroying them and wiping out their faith in the God who is calling them to life in Jesus Christ. The first Sunday in Lent warns: Expect to be tempted, and prepare for all kinds of seduction because if the tempter can’t get at you one way, he’ll just try another. The Word of God, however, has the power to defeat and drive this enemy away.

The second Sunday introduces new Christians to a phenomenon that old Christians know well, but that will seem quite shocking to those who are just beginning to walk the way. We tell them not only do they have to deal with the devil roaring like a lion, looking for someone to devour, but they will have to content with another quite common and trying spiritual experience: getting the cold shoulder from God. Don’t be deceived we tell them. There are times that you pray and God’s answer to your prayer seems to drop on your plate before you even say “Amen” – but this Sunday warns: don’t get used to it and think that’s what it’s always like; it most certainly is not.

No, instead many times we struggle and wrestle with God in prayer, and like Jacob, we walk away limping. We cry out like the woman in today’s Gospel and we feel ignored, excluded and insulted. And what then? Do we give up and believe what the Enemy is whispering in our ear? When he tells us: See, it was all an illusion; there is no God to hear your prayer; or if there is a God who hears prayers, he sure as shootin’ isn’t listening to the prayers of someone like you. Should we just hang our heads and walk away from the whole Christianity thing and think: It’s no good; it’s not meant for me?

Today the Church urges you: Don’t do it! Don’t give into those despairing thoughts! Look at the little lady from Canaan and follow her example instead. She is a living enactment of our Lord’s words: “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened to you, for everyone who asks receives and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.”

She came to Jesus. Maybe she was trying to disguise the fact that she had no claim on him by using the title “Son of David.” “Son of David, have mercy on me. My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” One of Satan’s crew had a grabbed hold of her daughter like a bull-dog and wasn’t letting go; filling that poor child with the hatred and bitterness, the rage and anger and resentment that is the beating heart of hell. And when she hears that the great Healer has come into her area, it was like a gift from heaven. Never had any been known to cry to Him in vain. And so she runs to him and pleads.

But what is this treatment she receives? “He answered her not a word.” Even the disciples are shocked at how he treats this woman. They intervene on her behalf, but it does no good. He simply tells them: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

If she thought that she had fooled him by using the Messianic title “Son of David” that he might think her a Jew, she now knows that no one pulls the wool over Jesus’ eyes. He knows that she is not one of the chosen people. Does she slink off then? Does she give up? No! She falls down before him and insists: “Lord, help me!”

Surely now? But what does He say? “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

He doesn’t just tell her that she is not one of the chosen people; He tells her she is a dog unworthy of the bread He was sent to give to His people. Now does she slink away? Now does she finally give up? No!

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” She only was asking for a crumb.

See how she wrestled with our Lord! See how she clung to His words! “I will not let you go until you bless me!” See how she let herself be emptied of every claim and yet still throw herself on His pity, mercy, and kindness! And see how see was not disappointed. “O woman, great is your faith, let it be to you as you desire.” “And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

Study at this woman, the Church says to the new Christians, on this Sunday in Lent! Learn from her! When you pray, come to Jesus and bring your requests to him. Own up to the fact that you have no claim on Him for you are but a poor, miserable sinner, and yet do not cease to plead for His mercy. But if He seems to turn His back upon you, don’t believe it. Not for a second. You stick to Him like a burr on a dog. You hold Him tight and don’t let Him go.

You see, it’s His way to test those who come to Him. No two ways about it. He teaches them the long and hard way not to rely on themselves and their feelings and how they think things should go in their lives. He teaches them to trust in Him and in His great love and mercy and He does it by giving them the cold shoulder.

Think of it: this woman didn’t even know the whole story. Not like you do, and yet she clung to Him. How much more reason do you have not to give up on Him? After all, you know that where His love landed Him: upon the cross, laden with your sin! You know how He spilled His blood to wipe out your sin and undo your death and deliver to you the gift of eternal life.

St. Paul, in thinking about this, wrote: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” Every time we share the Eucharist, eating the crumbs from His Table, our confidence is reinforced that the God who would do THIS for us can be trusted absolutely not to deny us or forsake us in the end – no matter what we may be going through right now.

And that’s what the Church would say to the newbies and, by way of reminder, to the old foggies too on this, the Second Sunday in Lent: Stick to Jesus and keep praying and asking, and no matter what. He uses the cold shoulder to bless you, for "tribulation will produce perseverance and perseverance, character, and character, hope, and that hope will not disappoint!" (Epistle for today) Amen.

10 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

Again he [our Lord] told of how the Father, who is goodness itself, was moved with pity for his profligate son who returned and made amends by repentance; how he embraced him, dressed him once more in the fine garments that befitted his own dignity, and did not reproach him for any of his sins… Then again he instructs us in divine justice and goodness, telling us to be like our heavenly Father, holy, perfect, and merciful. Forgive, he says, and you will be forgiven. Behave toward other people as you would wish them to behave toward you. – St. Maximos the Confessor, A Letter.

09 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

God's will is to save us and nothing pleases Him more than our coming back to him with true repentance. The heralds of this truth and the ministers of divine grace have told us this fromthe beginning, repeating it in every age. Indeed, God's desire for our salvation is the primary and preeminent sign of his infinite goodness. It was precisely in order to show that there is nothing closer to God's heart that the divine Word of God the Father, with untold condescension, lived among us in the flesh, and did, suffered, and said all that was necessary to reconcile us to God the Father, when we were at enmity with Him, and to restore us to the life of blessedness from which we were exiled. He healed our physical infirmities by miracles; he freed us from our sins, many and grievous as they were, suffering and dying, taking them upon himself as if he were answerable for them, sinless though he was. He also taught us in many different ways that we should wish to imitate him by our own kindness and genuine love for one another - from a letter of St. Maximos the Confessor

08 March 2006

Toward the Vigil

[Our midweek Lenten services this year feature a reading and sermon from one of the lessons of the Easter Vigil in addition to reading the Passion from St. Matthew; tonight's first reading, then, was Genesis 1]

Homily for Lenten Midweek One: The New Creation

Have you ever noticed the baptismal font? Ours is like those in most churches of Christendom. Most baptismal fonts are octagonal. They have eight sides. It is the meaning of those eight sides that we have the joy unlocking tonight; for believe it or not, the eight sides of the baptismal font point to a joyful reality about what God does in and through Baptism.

We heard it in the first reading. There we are told that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and that the earth was formeless void and darkness was on the face of the deep and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. The creation at the beginning was water and the Spirit was there and from the water the Spirit brought life. And the time of the world was recorded there. Day one: light and darkness separated. Day two: waters above and below the firmament separated. Day three: land and waters separated. Day four: sun and moon and stars. Day five: waters team with life and the birds fly in the sky. Day six: animals created to fill the earth and mankind created as the crown of God’s creation. Day seven: God looked at it all and it was good, indeed, it was very good. Creation itself: time and space. All were filled with the joy and light of God’s love and care and it was exceedingly good.

Seven days. And so the time of man came to be divided into sevens. Seven days make a week. Six days of work, one day of rest. This is the “order” of the creation. Seven. And in that creation, whose number is seven, water played a key role. Not only did the world begin with water, but God made water itself to be the very life of all that lived; nothing could live without it. In the verses following our first reading, God creates a special home for mankind called the Garden of Eden or Paradise, and the first thing we learn about Paradise is that there was water there: a head water whose streams divided into four to water the whole earth. God planted mankind in a world made from water and gave him as a home a land through which a river flowed. You see, we really do need water. Without water we cannot live. We need to drink it, to take it into ourselves. We need to wash with it. We even seem to need to play in it. Water is very much the first element of God’s creation.

The Bible begins with such a story to remind us of our home and to evoke in us a homesickness, a desire for return. For is it not very clear that this good creation has fallen? Where before there was only life and the joy of communion with the Creator, now the creation itself has become filled with death, the inevitable consequence of our fall away from Him who is Life itself. And the seven days that mark our time in this world have about them a horrible finality. On one of those seven days, we will die. Time itself, the rythmic pattern of the repeating sevens, is like a river rushing us forward toward the moment of death. And death makes all of what has gone before meaningless: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away and another generation comes; that which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said: “See, this is new”? (Eccl. 1:2-3,9,10)

And yet into all of this intrudes our eight-sided baptismal font. And the eight is in every sense new. You see, in the fullness of time, the heavenly Father sent into this world His Son to rescue it from the vanity, to set it free from its endless sevens which mark only the passing of time toward death. There came the day when the Son of the heavenly Father began his great “Passage”, his Exodus, his Passover. It was on the sixth day of creation that God finished his labors of creation. It was on the seventh day he rested and blessed the seventh day. And so it is on the sixth day of creation, in the sixth day of our fallen ordinary time, on a Friday, that the Son of the Father finished his labors of redemption: nailed to a cross, forgiving the sin of the world. He announced the completion of his work of salvation: “It is finished!” And on the seventh day of creation, in the seventh day of ordinary time, on a Saturday, his body rested in a grave from his great work of redemption. But on the next day, which is both the first day of the week of our ordinary time and the eighth day of a new creation, the Son of the Father who had tasted death for us and for us had rested in the grave was for us raised into a life that never ends. He stood alive again outside the tomb: he had passed from suffering and death into everlasting life; had made a Passage, an Exodus, a Passover for us! The writer of Ecclesiastes had asked: “Is there anything of which it may be said: See, this is new?” We answer with joy: YES!!! Christ is risen from the dead and death is undone! He has ushered in a new age, a new time, a new day. The eighth day, the day of the new creation. The picture of the Day that knows no evening in the kingdom of the Father.

When you were baptized you were put into that eighth day. The eight sides of the Baptismal font stand before you as a permanent witness that you have been made a new creation! Listen to how St. Paul expresses this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ... for He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:17-18, 21)

As at the beginning, the Spirit moved over the water and brought life into being: so when you were baptized, the Spirit moved over the water and by the power of God’s almighty Word you were given a new birth, a new beginning. You were carried with Christ through his death and burial and resurrection into the joy of new life. Your sins forgiven, fogotten, and gone. That is the “old” that has passed away. And a new life was reached out to you: a life that is none other than Christ’s own life: a life of “yes” to the will of the Father, a life of love and joy and peace. Jesus said: “Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” By water and the Spirit you have been given entrance already into this Kingdom!

But you must see that this new life is not something that was given to you only once. No! Baptism means that you are a new creation every day. Never “I was baptized.” Always “I am baptized.” As often as you fall away from your baptism, as often as you sink back into the old frustrations of the endless sevens and forget to live by the joy of the eighth day, God calls on you to repent and return. And when you return by faith to your baptism, you are again recreated, new and whole. Sparkling and shining with the glory of Christ himself.

Eight sides. One for each day and the eighth side is for the eighth day, the day beyond time, beyond this fallen creation, the day of the new creation, the day of the resurrection of Jesus, the day of your baptism into him, the day of your new life. “Behold, I make all things new!” You are included in that. Forever! Amen.

Patristic Quote for the Day

God's compassion for us is all the more wonderful because because Christ died, not for the righteous or the holy but for the wicked and the sinful, and, though the divine nature could not be touched by the sting of death, he took to himself, through his birth as one of us, something he could offer on our behalf.

The power of his death once confronted or death. In the words of Hosea the prophet: Death, I shall be your death; grave, I shall swallow you up. By dying he submitted to the laws of the underworld; by rising again he destroyed them. He did away with the everlasting character of death so as to make death a thing of time, not of eternity. As all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ. - Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermon for Good Friday

07 March 2006

Luther Thought

The following Luther thought seems quite fitting for meditation during the Lenten fast:

This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness;
not health, but healing;
not being, but becoming;
not rest, but exercise.
We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way;
the process is not yet finished, but it has begun;
this is not the goal, but it is road;
at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being
- Martin Luther, A Defense and Explanation of All Articles (AE 32:24)

Patristic Quote for the Day

Is it possible to offer, or even to imagine, a purer kind of prayer than that which shows mercy to one's torturers by making intercession for them? It was thanks to this kind of prayer that the frenzied persecutors who shed the blood of the Redeemer drank it afterward in faith and proclaimed him to be the Son of God.

The text goes on fittingly to speak of Christ's blood: Earth, do not cover over my blood, do not let my cry find a hiding place in you. When man sinned, God had said: Earth you are, and to earth you will return. Earth does not cover over the blood of our Redeemer, for every sinner, as he drinks the blood that is the price of his redemption, offers praise and thanksgiving, and to the best of his power makes that blood known to all around him.

Earth has not hidden away his blood, for holy Church has preached in every corner of the world the mystery of its redemption. - Pope St. Gregory the Great, *Moral Reflections on Job*

06 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

Thanks to Fr. Fenton for pointing us to an excellent sermon by Pope St. Leo the Great on his blog. My favorite line was this:

For the vice of pride is a near neighbour to good deeds, and arrogance ever lies in wait hard by virtue: because it is hard for him that lives praise-worthily not to be caught by man's praise unless, as it is written, "he that glorieth, glorieth in the Lord." - Homily for the First Sunday of the Fast

05 March 2006

Lenten Hymn

From the incomparable Brotherhood Prayer Book published by Our Savior Lutheran Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan:

Audi benigne Conditor - a hymn of St. Gregory the Great - for Lauds during the first weeks of Great Lent

O Kind Creator, bow thine ear / to mark the cry, to know the tear / before thy throne of mercy spent / in this thy holy fast of Lent.

Our hearts are open, Lord, to thee: / thou knowest our infirmity; / pour out on all who seek thy face / abundance of thy pardoning grace.

Our sins are many, this we know; / spare us, good Lord, thy mercy show; / and for the honor of thy name / our fainting souls to life reclaim.

Give us the self-control that springs / from discipline of outward things, / that fasting inward secretly / the soul may purely dwell with thee.

We pray thee, Holy Trinity / one God, unchanging Unity / that we from this our abstinence / may reap the fruits of penitence. Amen.

More Quia Eye...

I found some other interesting things to add to my infamous Quia Eye for the Lutheran guy:

While good works are not meritorious for forgiveness, grace, or justification, they ARE meritorious for other physical and spiritual rewards in this life and in that which is to come. (See Ap. IV:194)

Whoever casts love away will not keep his faith, because he will not keep the Holy Spirit. (See Ap. IV:219)

To disparage the mortification of the flesh would be to disparage the outward administration of Christ's rule among men. (See Ap. IV:193)

The punishments that chasten us are lightened by our prayers and good works. (See Ap. IV:268)

Alms merit many divine blessings, lighten our punishments, and merit a defense for us in the perils of sin and death. (See Ap. IV:278)

Among the justified works merit bodily and spiritual rewards through faith and thus there will be distinctions in glory among the saints. (See Ap. IV:355)

We are justified so that we might be begin to do good works and to obey the law. (See Ap. IV:348)

Final Thought on Fasting...

...when it strikes Lutherans of America as a bit odd to speak or think of fasting, much of this is sadly due to something left behind in the switch into the English language. In the first Agenda of the Missouri Synod, the readings for this particular Sunday are introduced:

Am ersten Sonntage in der Fasten, genannt Invocavit.

That is,

On the first Sunday in the Fast, called Invocavit.

And so on throughout the season.

The season itself is called in German: "Fastenzeit" - fasting time. So to the members of the early Missouri Synod, who were well-versed in German, the very word used for "Lent" simply was "Fast." Thus to say that Lutherans observe Lent, auf Deutsch, is to say that Lutherans observe the Fast.

Patristic Quote for the Day

"When all is said and done, there is one means and only one method of treatment available, and that is teaching by word of mouth. That is the best instrument, the best diet, and the best climate. It takes the place of medicine and cautery and surgery. When we need to cauterize or cut, we must use this. Without it all else is useless.... Let a man's diction be beggarly and his verbal composition simple and artless, but do not let him be inexpert in the knowledge and careful statement of doctrine." - St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, Book IV, "The Ministry of the Word"

04 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

For just as irrigated plants naturally grow in size, so too our faith when embattled blooms all the more, and when harassed multiplies. Indeed, irrigating with water doesn't usually make orchards thrive in the same way as the martyrs' blood naturally waters the Churches. - St. John Chrysostom, *On Saints Juventius and Maximinus* par. 2

03 March 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

The Church is mother of her own children, and she welcomes them and wraps her bosom around strangers. Noah's ark was an open theatre, but the Church is even better than that. For while it took irrational animals and preserved them as irrational animals, this [the Church] receives irrational animals and transforms them. For example, if a heretical fox enters here, I make that person a sheep. If a wolf enters, for my part I make them a lamb. If they're unwilling, it's nothing to do with me, but due to their obstinancy. - St. John Chrysostom, *On Saint Phocas* par. 7

02 March 2006

Gotta love David

The boy brings me home like on Tuesday a piece to accompany him for a vocal competition THIS Saturday - a version of "Joshua Fit" - syncopated like no tomorrow. GRRR. Have I ever told you all how much I DETEST trying to play complicated rhythms??? Of course, bringing home a piece of music that gives me fits is much, much better than last week bringing home a car that had been in an accident and needed a trip to the shop... He just has a knack for eliminating the stress from my life...NOT. I love you, David!!! Really.

Wisdom! Let us attend!

There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the Body and Blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord's day, or it may be only on the Lord's day. In regard to these and all other variable observances which may be met anywhere, one is at liberty to comply with them or not as he chooses; and there is no better rule for the wise and serious Christian in this matter, than to conform to the practice which he finds prevailing in the Church to which it may be his lot to come. For such a custom, if it is clearly not contrary to the faith nor to sound morality, is to be held as a thing indifferent, and ought to be observed for the sake of fellowship with those among whom we live. - St. Augustine, Epistle 54

Good Thought from Gerhard...

...in light of the Invocabit Gospel:

It is very profitable for the faithful soul to be tested and confirmed in the faith by temptations, whilst tarrying in this world. Our Savior Himself was willing to wrestle with the devil in the wilderness, in order that He might overcome Him for us and for our salvation and thus be our faithful Champion in all our conflicts with the tempter. Before He ascended to heaven He descended into hell as its Conqueror, and so the faithful soul must first descend into the very lowest depths of temptation, before ever it can ascend to the glories of heaven.

Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations, XL. “The Advantages of Temptations”

More on Fasting...

Some thoughtful words from Father Schmemann from his tremendous book (if you don't have it, go and buy it!): *Great Lent*. These are selections from pages 94-97

The world and food were thus created as means of communion with God, and only if accepted for God's sake were to give life. In itself food has no life and cannot give life. Only God has life and is Life. In food itself God - and not calories - was the principle of life. Thus to eat, to be alive, to know God and be in communion with Him were one and the same thing. The unfathomable tragedy of Adam is that he ate for its own sake. More than that, he ate "apart" from God in order to be independent of Him. And if he did it, it is because he believed that food had life in itself and that he, by partaking of that food, could be like God, i.e., have life in himself. To put it very simply: *he believed in food*, whereas the only object of belief, of faith, of dependence is God and God alone. World, food, became his gods, the sources and principles of his life. He became their slave....

Christ is the New Adam. He comes to repair the damage inflicted on life by Adam, to restore man to true life, and thus He also begins with fasting. "When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He became hungry" (Matt 4:2). Hunger is that state in which we realize our dependence on something else - and we urgently and essentially need food - showing thus that we have no life in ourselves...

It is, in other words, the time when we face the ultimate question: on what does my life depend? And since the question is not an academic one but is felt with my entire body, it is also the time of temptation. Satan came to Adam in Paradise; he came to Christ in the desert. He came to two hungry men and said: eat, your hunger is the poof that you depend entirely on food, that your life is in food. And Adam believed and ate; but Christ rejected that temptation and said: man shall not live by bread alone but by God. He refused to accept the cosmic lie which Satan imposed on the world, making that lie a self-evident truth not even debated any more, the foundation of our entire world view, of science, medicine, and perhaps even of religion. By doing this Christ restored that relationship between food, life, and God which Adam broke, and which we still break every day.

What then is fasting for us Christians? It is our entrance and participation in that experience of Christ Himself by which He liberates us from the total dependence on food, watter, and the world. By no means is our liberation a full one. Living still in the fallen world, in the world of the Old Adam, being part of it, we still depend on food. But just as our death - through which we still must pass - has become by virtue of Christ's Death a passage into life, the food we eat and the life it sustains can be in God and for God. Part of our food has already become "food of immortality" - the Body and Blood of Christ Himself...

[Fasting] is not a theoretical but truly a practical challenge to the great Liar who managed to convince us that we depend on bread alone and built all human knowledge, science, and existence on that lie. Fasting is a denunciation of that lie and also proof that it is a lie...

Fasting is the real fight against the Devil because it is the challenge to that one all-embracing law which makes him the "Prince of this world." Yet if one is hungry and then discovers that he can truly be independent of that hunger, not be destroyed by it but just on the contrary, can transform it into a source of spiritual power and victory, then nothing remains of that great lie in which we have been living since Adam.

[And this is the GREAT part!]

How far we are by now from the usual understanding of fasting as a mere change of diet, as what is permitted and what is forbidden, from all that superficial hypocricy! Ultimately, to fast means only one thing: to be hungry - to go to the limit of that human condition which depends entirely on food and, being hungry, to discover that this dependency is not the whole truth about man, that hunger itself is first of all a spiritual state and that it is in its last reality *hunger for God*

Patristic Quote for the Day

Be cautious of harsh words. Should you utter them, then do not be afraid to speak the healing word with the same mouth that caused the wound. - St. Augustine, *The Rule* Section 6, par. 2

01 March 2006

On Ashes

It always seems jarring to Lutheran Christians to hear the Gospel appointed for Ash Wednesday (don't disfigure your face to show men you are fasting) and then be invited up to receive ashes on your face! What gives? A direct disobedience to our Lord's commandment?

Most assuredly NOT that. The ashes for which this day is named are not to show ANYONE that you are fasting (for who knows if you are or not?). What they are, is shown by the words accompanying them:

Remember, O Man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.

Thus, the ashes show not fasting, but dying. Remember, O Man, and everyone who sees you - remember one and all - that we are dying. That we are headed for the earth. The words first spoken by our loving God on the day of the Fall ring down the long corridor of the centuries: "Remember! You are dust! To dust you will return!"

But there is more. The ashes are placed on the forehead in the form of a cross. A reminder that though we will surely return to the earth and die, become ashes, as it were, there is One who came among us and did this - one over whom death had NO claim. And His death is the destruction of death itself - the wiping out of sin, the gift of unending life.

Thus the ashes are placed upon a dying people under the sign that this death has itself been transformed by His enduring it for us. You will die, but you will not die hopeless. You will go to the grave in the certainty that He who became dust and ashes for you will RAISE you from the earth to which you have returned and bring you into the Home He has prepared. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to Him forever!!!

On Fasting...

I read these words last week and thought they were very helpful in dealing with the topic of fasting. They are published by St. George's Cathedral in Wichita (Antiochian) - and thus the words are in regard to fasting as Orthodox Christians - but I thought they were useful in dispelling some rather erroneous notions about fasting in general for Christians of whatever confession. Don't know about you, but I sure would have trouble describing this sage counsel as "legalistic":

Preparing for the Fast ~ I: 1 Corinthians 10:23-28, especially vs. 26: “for the earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness.” At the threshold of Great Lent, the gateway to the “bright sadness” of the Fast, it is right to ask: are we prepared for fasting? Now is the appropriate moment to reflect on the Apostolic wisdom of today’s reading concerning eating and abstaining. To do so, we will consider some pertinent historical background, and then share two thoughts concerning the days ahead, so that the Fast may profit us for our life in Christ.

Recall the tiny handful of Christians who lived in the city of Corinth in St. Paul’s day. They worked, shopped, and socialized in a pagan town bustling with commerce and shipping, but their Christian profession raised problems for them: how could they keep themselves “pure and undefiled...before God” (Jas. 1:27) within an active pagan culture? They faced “sticky” issues.

Almost all meat in the markets came directly from idolatrous rituals, from sacrificial animals slaughtered in pagan temples. Only the best animals were offered to the “gods,” and only a tiny portion of the meat was consumed in the actual rituals. The rest was sold to support the operation of the temples. To help the new Christians, St. Paul provided a guide: love requires sensitivity to the conscience of others; thus, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well being” (1 Cor. 10:24). For the Faithful in Corinth the Apostle’s rule meant: go to the markets, buy meat, but do not unnecessarily constrain one’s self with issues of conscience by inquiring about the source of their purchases (vs. 25). Further, when invited to dinner, they were to eat and enjoy, but not to pry as long as no one indicated that the meat came from pagan temples, (vs. 27). The Apostle grounded the rule on revealed principle: all comes from God (vs. 26 and Ps. 23:1 LXX) so nothing is impure except when one’s conscience is contaminated (Mk. 7:18-20).

What do these principles say to us about the Lenten fasting disciplines? First and foremost is the issue of freedom of conscience. Do we fast because it is a rule that we have been told we must follow? If that is our prime reason, then we will not have chosen to fast with the Church freely. Instead, we will be operating on a contrary basis, because rote obedience to religious traditions and rules is Judaizing, which destroys freedom in Christ (Gal. 2:4,16).

The Lord Jesus commends fasting as part of the life of a disciple (Mt. 6:16). He does not command it as He does the Liturgy - “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Lk. 22:19). Father John Romanides speaks of two important reasons why Orthodox Christians should fast: “love, unity and communion of immortality with each other and with the saints in Christ; and...the war against Satan and his powers, already defeated in the flesh of Christ by those living in Christ, beyond death.” Let us choose to fast in order to express our unity with the Church, and because we wish, in Christ, to deny the demons control of our passions and thus to deprive Satan of the passions as “points of entry” into ourselves. Of course, we never should fast as Christians if we merely are seeking our own good at the expense of others (1 Cor. 10:24).

Further, let us fast quietly, in modest freedom before our fellow Christians and before non-Christians as well. Who would use his freedom in Christ to avoid fasting with the Church? Such self-serving would abuse our fellow Christians by suggesting that the common life in Christ is unimportant, and it would leave them weakened in their struggle. If, by God’s grace, we can sustain an unassuming attitude toward fasting, we may show non-Orthodox the value of the common life in Christ. Above all, let us be unpretentious, without show, expressing mutual love in the Lord; for if we flaunt fasting or non-fasting, we already “have our reward” (Mt. 6:16-18).

Fortify us, O Lord, that we may fulfill our fast with God pleasing purity and devotion.

Patristic Quote for the Day

In honor of Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of Lent, from the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete:

Come, wretched soul, with thy flesh to the Creator of all.
Make confession to Him, and abstain henceforth from thy past brutishness;
and offer to God tears of repentance:
Have mercy upon me, O God! Have mercy on me!

I have rivalled in transgression Adam, the first-formed man,
And I have found myself stripped naked of God,
And of the eternal kingdom and its joys, because of my many sins:
Have mercy upon me, O God! Have mercy on me!

Woe to thee, miserable soul! How like thou art to the first Eve!
For thou hast looked in wickedness and wast grievously wounded;
Thou hast touched the tree and rashly tasted the deceptive food:
Have mercy upon me, O God! Have mercy on me!

Instead of the visible Eve, I have the Eve of my mind:
The passionate thought in my flesh, showing me what seems sweet;
yet whenever I taste from it, I find it bitter:
Have mercy on me, O God! Have mercy on me!

Adam was justly banished from Eden
Because He disobeyed one commandment of Thine, O Savior.
What then shall I suffer, for I am always rejecting Thy words of life?
Have mercy on me, O God! Have mercy on me!

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of all,
Take from me the heavy yoke of sin,
And in Thy compassion grant me remission of sins.
Have mercy on me, o God! Have mercy on me!