The Empirical Bogey (O Oriens)

Originally published in 2015, this essay is part of a series I used to do annually on the Great O Antiphons of Advent. This Verse will be sung tonight at Vespers and, since this night is the Longest Night, and tomorrow is the Dawn of Summer’s Advent, we sing. “O Dawn”. The church knows when the solstice is, certainly, although it has nothing to do with the date of Christmas. Many parts of the liturgical year are tied (officially or not) to the natural cycle of the northern hemisphere: not just major holidays, but also fasting on the quarter days, the choice of which feast in a Saint’s Life is more important, etc. The liturgical cycle sanctifies time rather than obliterating it. We are manifesting heaven on earth sacramentally, not escaping earth and fleeing to “realms of spirit.” The physical world is being saved, not ignored.


O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.

O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

This is my favourite of the Great O Antiphons, for entirely non-liturgical reasons: this verse is one of several paraphrased by the Orthodox Anglo-Saxon Poet, Cynewulf in his long poem Crist or, in modern English, Christ.  In Anglo Saxon and in English, the lines run:

Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast
Ofer middangeard monnum sended.
Hail Earendel brightest of angels,
over Middle Earth sent to men.

It was this text that gave J.R.R. Tolkien the name and purpose of his character, Eärendil the Mariner. Oddly enough I learned about the Great O Antiphons (back in 1982 or 83) by reading about this connection with Tolkien and then doing research. That was before I had been exposed to western liturgy beyond Novus Ordo and late 70s ECUSA. It was the dawn of a new world for me – connecting Tolkien’s world that never was with parts of our world that were no longer.

Tolkien and his fellow writer, C.S. Lewis, knew that part of our modern problem is that our world is being destroyed – now, almost a century after their friendship, our world is nearly totally gone. We used to live in a world peopled by angels and located in the middle: not geographically, but mentally, spiritually, between heaven and hell. Now we are more than ever trapped in time, stranded between the past that cannot be and the future that is never. The religion of our culture, Scientific Nihilism, has washed away all connection, all sense of a possibility of connection, replacing a Transpersonal God with what C.S. Lewis called “The Empirical Bogey:”

…the great myth of our century with its gasses and galaxies, its light years and evolutions, its nightmare perspectives of simple arithmetic in which everything that can possibly hold significance for the mind becomes the mere by-product of essential disorder… its flat superlatives, its clownish amazement that different things should be of different sizes, it’s glib munificence of ciphers.

We pretend we have discovered the really awesome parts of the universe, when, in fact, all we have done is let our mind’s impression of the Speed of Light create in us a false sense of awe at mere numbers; numbers which we ourselves invented and to which we attach some sort of quasi-religious content. We become over-awed by generating the emotions within ourselves at our own inventions, as a child might, looking too fondly at a sand castle she has built on the beach.

But we have discarded the Created Order: the reality that is there, no matter how much we ignore it, or imagine we’ve surpassed it. We need the Dawn to show to us all of this.

We’ve got darkness and death again running parallel to light and justice. In the traditional liturgy this gets sung at Vespers on the 21st of December: the Solstice, the return of the Sun. Singing this verse creates the linking of Christ with the rising Sun, very literally in time and space.

A certain sort of political activist will often invoke Jesus as a supporter of “justice”. They do this without irony despite the fact that they would reject a vast majority of what Jesus stood for. They would certainly never call his teachings “Justice”. They make this rejection by saying that Jesus was merely human and often wrong based on the cultural biases of his time. But they are certain that any “outcast” calling for “justice” today would be supported by the Jesus they have invented as easily as science invents big numbers. Justice, in this political dialect, usually means “supporting my political causes and damning my opposition”. Jesus is not invoked as in this Antiphon, as being, himself, the Sun of Justice. God – Jesus – in his person – is Justice.

The Sun of Justice is a line taken from the Prophecy of Malachias 4:1-4

For behold the day shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd. And you shall tread down the wicked when they shall be ashes under the sole of your feet in the day that I do this, saith the Lord of hosts. Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, the precepts, and judgments.

Ecce enim dies veniet succensa quasi caminus: et erunt omnes superbi et omnes facientes impietatem stipula: et inflammabit eos dies veniens, dicit Dominus exercituum, quae non derelinquet eis radicem et germen. Et orietur vobis timentibus nomen meum sol justite, et sanitas in pennis ejus: et egrediemini, et salietis sicut vituli de armento. Et calcabitis impios, cum fuerint cinis sub planta pedum vestrorum, in die qua ego facio, dicit Dominus exercituum. Mementote legis Moysi servi mei, quam mandavi ei in Horeb ad omnem Israel, praecepta et judicica. 

The Justice that Jesus offers is only for those that fear God and do all that he commanded through Moses: they who do so shall tread down all the proud folk who do wickedly as ashes under their feet. But you can’t have God’s Justice for you to do something God has commanded you not to do, for there is no Justice beyond God’s law.

Here again we are being presented with the Empirical Bogey. We are convinced that our minds can discover things and then we invest those things with quasi-religious value. The new Jesus we have at last discovered in our wisdom supports us, not those stodgy religious sorts. Freedom, we have at least discovered in our wisdom, is not “the Free human being who is most himself in the will of God” but rather “I can do what I want.” The Evil One makes us hate what is good for us and love what is bad for us. In fact this is such a good trick of his, that he makes us think the bad stuff really is us. Thus Justice does not mean justly following God’s law and creating civil laws that enable others to do so as well. Justice means, “I can do what I want and you can be punished for thinking, saying, or living as if I shouldn’t do it.

Which is to say that Jesus didn’t teach a “justice” that would have been recognized as such by anyone marching in our streets today. In fact, Jesus colluded with the unjust systems of his day: paying taxes, respecting civil authorities. He makes it rather clear that those authorities would not be there (just or not) if God had not put them there. In the matter of “judge not”, God will judge authorities that act outside of his divine Justice. That’s not for us to worry about (unless you happen to be in political office). Our job, as Christians, working our our salvation in fear and trembling, is to live in God’s Just Law, no matter what the world lives in. Paul, writing to Philemon, does not challenge the system of slavery in the Roman world, but rather he tells Philemon to act in God’s Justice towards his brother in Christ, the slave Onesimus, suggesting even that Philemon will do more (following God’s Love) than Paul even suggests in his letter. Paul doesn’t protest in the streets to change the laws: but he reminds Christians that they have a higher law to follow

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

So it is with us, today looking at the Antiphon, and for all time. We know that Justice comes from God in Jesus very person. Our secular laws, as such, mean precious little if they do not reflect this. They can be ignored as so many cardboard cutouts. The traditional prayer for civil authorities from the Russian Prayerbook makes this clear:

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on our president and all in authority throughout the world, commanders-in-chief of armies and navies and airfleets, governors of provinces and cities, and all the Christ-loving navies, armies and police; protect their power with peace, and subdue under their feet every enemy and foe, and speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Thy Holy Church, and for all Thy people, and grant that in their calm we too may lead a quiet and peaceful life in true belief, in all piety and honesty.

Civil gov’t is there only to keep the peace so the Church can do her work: this can be done with the second amendment, or without it, with socialism, capitalism or the odd hybrid we now have. As long as there is civil peace the Church can do her job. Be mindful that this prayer was also prayed for the leaders of the Soviet state…speak peace and blessing in their hearts for Thy Holy Church, and for all Thy people, and grant that in their calm we too may lead a quiet and peaceful life in true belief, in all piety and honesty.

From the state all we want is to be left alone. We need Jesus for Justice: which is an interpersonal quality, not a legal standing. All this world – including our gov’ts, our states, the religion of Scientific Nihilism and the Empirical Bogey – are all trapped in darkness and death. We seek the dawn, Earendel, to show us the way out.

Ye who own the faith of Jesus

JMJ
The Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:
Ave gratia plena: Dominus tecum.
Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.

Unto whomst (as all the cool kiddies say on Twitter) else has the Lord ever said “Full of Grace”?

Unto which of the Angels or the Prophets, the Patriarchs, the Judges, unto which King or Queen, unto which Priest or Levite, has this ever been said?
Unto which of the women of Jerusalem did Solomon ever say this?
Unto which of the maidens dancing is this said in the Psalms?

No one gets this praise. No one at all, but she who is the Mother of God, conceived this day without sin.

But why? The teaching is that by a singular act of the Divine Mercy, Mary was given this grace before birth: not to know the stain of original sin. The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”. (Catechism, 492.)

And where else do we hear that sort of language? Around baptism! Around our baptism.

What God has promised you and I in our baptism, he gave to Mary by mercy at her conception. What is so horrifying about this: to think that God would honor with all the graces she who was to be the mother of Grace himself? She who was to be the gateway of light would be filled with light for all her life. She who was to be the new Eve would have the grace given to the first Eve before her fall. She who was to be the star of morning before the Dawn of Justice would, in herself, show the reflected light of the advancing sun.

This makes perfect, clear, and charitable sense.

It’s not sensible to deny any of this – although Modernists get away with it by denying original sin outright. This is also not sensible: anyone who has met an Orthodox or Catholic Politician knows original sin is real. If you have the slightest inkling that Jesus is God, what honor would he not bestow on his mother?

But…

The Greek is κεχαριτωμένη kecharitōmenē

This word gets used one other time (in a different form) in the entire New Testament.  It’s in our second reading today, Ephesians 1:6, and it’s not talking about Mary, but about all of us who are Baptised.  And this is why it makes sense to honor Mary today as Full of Grace: the Grace of Baptism bestowed before birth by God’s mercy. It’s scriptural: what God says of us after Baptism, he says of Mary before there ever was a baptism!

In Ephesians, we are celebrated as the ones chosen by God – in the same way as Mary. We are the one made in Christ to be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. We are given this favor freely: we are made full of grace. To deny this to Mary is to deny this to everyone. (Again the Modernists and Liberals would have no problem with that.)

Today we celebrate in foreshadow what we will hail in reality on Christmas. God become Man to bring Man to God in fullest union. God entering our world to change the very fabric of it to make it a pathway of life instead of death. And even here, at conception, the thing that kills us is destroyed.

This is the glory of the Church: that Mary, our mother, signifies in her soul and body the mystery of our very lives: redeemed, elevated, filled with Grace, and made to birth the Word of God for the joy of all the world. This is the secret doctrine of our faith, that Mary, our mother, knows in her person the fullness of the joy that each of us strives to inculcate by the Spirit. This is the light that burns brightest on our altars: that Mary, our mother in birthing God to the world has become the Tabernacle of life himself. Mary is the Tabernacle, the Temple. Mary replaces all that with her virginal womb.

This day we affirm the highest honor God bestows on all of us by celebrating the most singular person to receive that honor in the most singular way. What we received in Baptism, by the promise, Mary received at conception by Grace. Let us by her prayers become worthy of this gift that we, too, may intercede with her before the Throne of God for those in our lives.

O Virgin – 8th Advent Meditation

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Why marvel ye at me?

Today, in the Byzantine Rite, is the Sunday before the Nativity and the Gospel assigned is that of the Genealogy of Jesus from Matthew.  It’s rough going for the Deacon reading because it’s one hard name after another.  I’m sure it’s equally fun in languages other than English.  In his sermon after, our Archdeacon touched on a lot of points but one struck me as the answer to “Why marvel ye at me?”  From Solomon’s adulterous parentage to slavery in Babylon, from Gentile  blood to Egyptian poverty, the ancestry of  Jesus has something to scandalize nearly every portion of the Roman world, and he was conceived out of wedlock!

Mary, in Orthodoxy, is sinless, but not without scandal. The family tree of Jesus is of royal lineage, but he’s not a direct heir to the throne.  He is of the House of David but only via cadency, He’s less royalty and more like all the folks who can claim Queen Victoria as a member of their family tree.  Mary is indeed a Marvel: fulfilling the prophecy without coming close to fulfilling the expectations. She is – just as her son is – exactly what was promised and not at all what anyone was looking for.

She, devoid of human value and without connections or power – and still the subject of gossip in the Talmud – is exactly perfect as the mother of the God who needs his diapers changed.

Her son will die a state-sponsored death as a condemned revolutionary, betrayed into the hands of a colonial power by his own people.  But that – as with Mary – is God showing us that nothing is out of his hands. The worse things we as humans can do to ourselves or others can, in his hands, become the salvation of the whole world.

Bread containing the dead skin flakes and sweat of you and me – both of us sinners – becomes the flesh of the God who needed his diapers changed by his sinless mother who was a scandal in her town.  God takes what we have.  Our cultural failures, our sins, our loss, our personal fouls and parking tickets, offered to God, become what saves us.

And sinners become divine.

Merry Christmas.

O King – 6th Advent Meditation

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

It seems there is a silence in Orthodox theology that is not so in the west.  This is not a deficit, this is cultural experience – a difference in things in the west that was, largely, not there in the east. This difference is conversations about democratic government.  For the entirety of the first millennium of the Christian Era, all Christians lived in monarchies.  These would have been “absolute” monarchies to one degree or another, but everyone had a king. Other forms of government evolved in the West towards their modern forms only after the Great Schism. Yet, at the same time, all the Christians of the East – Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, etc – continued to live in Monarchies (Christian or not)  and after that, in autocracies of one form or another, either Muslim or Soviet-style dictatorships, and although a few traditionally Orthodox lands have moved to other forms, no one has, for more than 100 years, lived in what we might call a fully functioning European-style democracy.  It is this lack of experience that has resulted in a large silence on the part of our Bishops, elders and saints to talk about being Christians in democracies.  (This did, finally, begin to change towards the end of the last century.)

We have very little theological base on which to read about Christ as our King: having earthly Kings (who were largely Christian) and not living in democracies we never worried about “Christian Laws”.  When the state became non- or anti-Christian we shouldered on under persecution.  We simply had no power in those cultures to attempt (or effect) change.

In the west this was not so.  But even there the Church was late to the discussion – only about 100 years ahead of the east, in fact.

I’ve been reading up a lot on the Roman Catholic idea of the Social Kingship of Christ. I will try to keep this Advent meditation away from the “I took a class once/I read that book once” level of discourse.  I do not know enough about this doctrine and, of course, being Orthodox, I disagree with any idea that the Roman church is the sine qua non of earthly manifestations of the Kingdom of God.  But that said, I think the idea is one that needs to be studied by the Orthodox.  In the Western Rite we observe the feast of Christ the King, which feast on the last Sunday of October is not of ancient origin, but rather “Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical letter Quas primas, in response to growing nationalism and secularism” (quoth the wiki). The first observance of this festal innovation was on 31 October 1926.  I see not but that 89 years later we are still suffering from growing secularism. Nationalism won the day a while ago: we no longer think of our religion as our primary identity, or even our secondary one.

In many conversations one may encounter a cultural assumption that the laws of a state define what is good and true rather than only what is legal.  Recently I heard voiced a sense of surprise that the Roman and Orthodox Churches would not change their doctrines of marriage based on the decision of the US Supreme Court.  (I’m discussing this regardless of the obvious dismissal of those churches as existing outside the USA.)  The party clearly had no idea that the Church declares what is moral in the law of God and the laws of the state are judged moral or not by that same law. The Church, herself, has no power to change what God says, only to respond to it.  I think this surprise is because of the great silence I mentioned above.  We don’t talk about the laws a lot – or about our Christian duties to legislate for God’s kingdom.

O come, Desire of nations, bind,
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of peace.

When a Roman Catholic politician says she will not have an abortion – because it’s a sin – but she will work to pass laws allowing others to get them, she has violated the teachings of her Church: there are documents, encyclicals, and saints to back that up.  This is not so in Orthodoxy even though our moral teaching is the same: we have no place to point and say, “See, Senator Snowe, you have violated the teachings of your Church by supporting these laws.” Even now reading this some of my readers will say “but we are a democracy” implying thereby that Christians should not even attempt to legislate their morals into the laws of the land.  I, myself, hold a non-Christian gov’t as a nullity, with no say over me beyond keeping the peace between persons – and our gov’t is increasingly poor at that. Yet, is there an obligation to me as a Citizen of the Kingdom of God resident in this nation?

There is a slogan, “No Jesus, No Peace: Know Jesus, Know Peace.” If we are living out the Gospel as our primary function (seek ye first the Kingdom of God) we will become good persons and, being good persons, we can be good residents of the place where we live, good neighbors, good friends and coworkers of those around us.  This is not the same as “nice” and “well respected”.  Nor is it the same as “productive” or “partisan”.  The Kingship of Christ is one of obligation rather than of accommodation: if one lives in the Kingdom of God, one is obligated to transform day-to-day life into that Kingdom.  A friend feeds the poor in his city, despite the fact that it is illegal to do so – as the Rabbis say it was also in ancient Sodom.  That is a moral thing to do and it makes him a good citizen – even as he violates the law.

The Kingship of Christ is a paradox, as we were taught by Jesus: the first are last, the last are first. The meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled with what they crave.  The rich, however, will be sent empty, away.

America is very rich.
And very empty: spiritually dead and also spiritually corrupting;in this we must agree with those radicals of another religion.
Where is your citizenship.
What is your primary identity?

How do you live the Kingdom present, despite the laws around you?

O Key – 4th Advent Meditation

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open, and no one shuts, you shut, and no one opens: come, and lead the prisoner from jail, seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Jesus’ Advent is rather both like and unlike Prometheus bringing fire: it’s not enough that he has fire, he has to bring it to all of us. We must become fire.  What, exactly are you imprisoned by? The verse says “darkness and shadow of death”.  Let us set aside “shadow of death” for a moment… but St Paul has some stuff to say about “darkness” in his Epistle to the Ephesians:

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief. Be ye not therefore partakers with them. For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth; Proving what is well pleasing to God: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For the things that are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of. But all things that are reproved, are made manifest by the light; for all that is made manifest is light.  

Ephesians 5:3-13

Even writing to the saints of God, he admits that “you were heretofore darkness”  something has happened, however, and the Ephesians are “now light in the Lord.”   Nunc autem lux. – You are now light.  In the Sermon on the mount, Jesus says, Vos estis lux mundi. “You are the light of the world.”

We do however, have a painful ministry: the purpose of light is to illuminate the darkness.

Tim Tebow, a professional football player, is getting a lot of press lately: his girlfriend broke up with him because he won’t have sex with her prior to marriage. That’s shining a light on the darkness and it’s bothering people: so they are making fun of him for not committing fornication with Miss Universe.  This is the second girl to dump him for this reason, the last one being a Children’s TV star.

I wish I had learned that lesson in my teens… I might not still be struggling with becoming an adult now. We’re imprisoned in darkness.  The thing about darkness is you can’t see how bad it all is.  When someone comes along and shines a light on it, you’ve got a choice to make: step away or yell at the light-bringer.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Sex, however, is easy to point at and too expected: we’re surrounded by darkness.  Abortion, war, suicide, guns, violence, slow destruction by drugs and alcohol, TV shows and computer games that glorify killing – but even that’s too easy.  Our comedy is dark: making just fun out of our darker evils. Have you ever seen a show called “Absolutely Fabulous”?  It’s anything but.  Reality TV allows us to see everyone’s darker side.  Other TV shows glorify gluttony, greed, anger, and arrogance.  Our politics is filled with the glory of lies and expediency.

The thing is, all this darkness is death.  Humans are not mushrooms and we need light to live.  But we have, as it were, become convinced that we are mushrooms.  We think all of this is normal – healthy. The Evil One makes us hate what is good for us and love what is bad for us. In fact this is such a good trick of his, that he makes us think the bad stuff really is us.  A friend speaking of the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage said she “was given my full humanity…”  I had no idea how to peacefully challenge her on that point.  That’s not your humanity: that’s a lie.  What part of my life in Christ has failed so much that she could her I would agree with her, and what part of my inability to have a peaceful reply allows her to continue in that mistake? We let Jesus deal with that, I think, and her confessor.

But how is your life a light that shines in the darkness?  How is mine so?  St Paul says, “Walk as children of the Light” and Jesus says, “Let your light shine before men”. Paul says that will prove the truth of God, Jesus says “that men may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.”  Paul adds that it will reprove the works of darkness.

Which, of course, means they won’t like us so much any more.

That is the whole point of Christmas becoming a light in a world of darkness and dying for it.

O Root – 3rd Advent Meditation

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.


Blood, the old saying goes, is thicker than water.  It’s an old slam against Christians – who are just as human as anyone else: the water in question is found in the Baptismal Font. But often, when in a tight space, a Christian, just as much as anyone else, will “stick to his own kind, one of his own kind”. If you’re at all familiar with Christians on the internet, you see it all the time: we’ll stand with “our own kind” over Brother Christians almost any day.

And our own kind – our blood – is measured in race, or sexuality, in nationality, although sometimes we dress it up as “religion”: A “Christian Civilization” as against “Arabs” or Muslims.  We ignore that there are Christians there too – because religion is just one of our things to cover the blood issue.  Blood is thicker than water, after all.  In extremes, this turns in to White Supremacists (who even steal an image of the Crucifixion for their propaganda about “White Man Crucified”), but we do it all the time: any time there is an “us” versus a “them”, an “in group” versus an “out group”, we’re saying blood is thicker than water.  Gangs, fraternities, alma maters with historic grudge matches, Yankees and Confederates, Communists and Capitalists, race, nationality, even sex becomes a division in the body of Christ.

Before I go any further, this is not an appeal to moral relativism: it is possible to be right or wrong.  Nor is it an appeal to a false Ecumenism: Jesus, himself, said, “Not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ are mine”.  Rather it is an appeal to recognize Jesus’ supremacy over all the powers of our world.  It is possible to be either inside or outside of Jesus’ posse: but the response to finding someone outside the posse is evangelism, not hatred.

All the powers – the bloods – of humanity are in one of two toggled positions: either bringing people together under Christ, or else bringing people together apart from Christ.  That coming together apart from Christ can look so very much like Christians that we get side tracked into not seeing the bad stuff.  How many Christian groups get all interfaith warm and cuddly without trying to preach the Gospel?

One of the Great Miracles of Christmas is how God arranged the world. The Fathers of the Church, and also our liturgy, praise the Pax Romana, the peace enjoyed by so much of the known world at that time because of Rome’s political and military hegemony.  It was all for Rome’s own purposes, of course: draining the world of resources and making Rome wealthy; but it held the world in peace so that the Gospel could be spread.  There was a common language, a common cultural understanding – even among different races and tribes – that made it so easy for the early Church to grow.  Compare this to other modern political “unifications” that only force people together without any sense of peace, that often play both ends against the middle to keep all the people arguing and allow an elite group to remain in power, as often the British did in their empire and colonies. (And African Proverb runs, “If you pass a pond and two fish are fighting, you know the British have been there.”)  We are still cleaning up those messes in Africa, the Middle East, and Ireland.  Rome was a pagan empire used by God.  England not hardly at all – though it was Christian in name. The same is true of any other “empire” in your life.

Have you ever seen an Empire on parade like on Gay Pride Day?  Or have you seen the blood feuds of Europe carried over into American meeting halls and St Patrick’s Day Parades? It is recorded that when the Saxons first came to England, the Celts refused to send them clergy to teach them the Gospel simply because they were Saxons.  Red gangs versus Blue gangs, Nortenos vs Surenos, the list goes on and on.

At several points in my life I wanted to “bring my colors” into Church.  Have you heard about the people who try to wear rainbow sashes to communion?  Once upon a time that was me – although we didn’t do sashes back in the day.  It’s not enough to stand before God at his Altar: I needed to bring my own kingdom with me.  I wanted a church that was “Gay Friendly” without ever asking if I was being Christ Friendly.

I’m not alone there, bringing my flag.  I know about controversies over General Lee’s battle flag being flown at his own parish in Virginia, but what about all those churches with US flags in them – no less a symbol of division and hate to many? Or Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) here in San Francisco, which is decked out in so very many Union Jacks and Royal Standards as to make one think one is in Londonderry just after Marching Season.

And I don’t need to point out that the Monarchs of England (and other places, like Russia, Serbia, Greece) enjoy status as Church functionaries too.

The antiphon today calls Jesus an “ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence.” This is not an Republican cry against Monarchism.  Jesus is not here to free us from the oppression of monarchies, or to give us monarchies to free us from the Majority Tyrannies of the mob.  Jesus – contrary to almost every thing the Secular Left and the Secular Right (through their dupes in the Church) say – had no political agenda.  He didn’t “liberate” anyone or preach liberation of any kind. He was not a pacifist, but neither did he get into the political squabbles of his day. The Jews erroneously expected their Messiah to to come and liberate them from Rome. Christians today, no less erroneously, expect Jesus to liberate us from Big Gov’t, from Sexism and Homophobia, from racism, from war.  He’s not come to solve the problem of Islamic Extremism or the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Jesus makes all those things shut up – not go away.  Makes them be silent in your heart by virtue of your having entered into his kingdom.

And in the silence, you can be saved.

O come, O Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

The problem with every “Us/Them” division is that the people on “the other side” are no less icons of the Living God, no less in need of grace, no less worthy of heaven than the people on “our side”.  Gospel was needed in the Concentration Camps of Germany: by both the inmates and the Nazis.  Salvation was needed in the Soviet Gulags no less by the prisoners than by the guards.  the Gospel in America is needed by the KKK and the poor whites whom they brain wash just as much as by the poor blacks that they bully and kill.  Jesus is needed both by the Stupid Party and by the Evil party – apply those labels any way you wish.  It works.  Any tyranny of division is Satan’s own.  Yes, there are lines and borders and even language and race divides us, however any failure to see “them” as God’s children needed the Grace of Jesus is caused not by the reality of the situation, but by Satan.

Again, this is not an appeal to amorality, or to any false union for becoming Christian means leaving idolatry behind, be it of states, sodomy, or sola scriptura.  But we are called to bring the Gospel to all, and to avoid the luxury of human enemies. All us and them is just you and me and I can not be saved without you.  Blood may be thicker than water, at least in viscosity and specific gravity, but just as our baptism makes us one in Christ, so our common humanity makes us one before God’s throne.  In the final accounting no one in the Church will be allowed to say “Those people were not fully human, so we didn’t bother bringing the Gospel to them.”

And by bringing the Gospel: which means preaching and living it we are saved.

O Lord: 2nd Advent Meditation

Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

Lord and Ruler the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.

The redemption prayed for in this antiphon has happened – as mentioned in the last meditation: we are once again set to be free to enter into the dance with God.  We can, however, insist on a return to the “slavery to our own reasonings”.   It’s a path I well know: because I want to be Christian, but, you know, not all the way.

To call the divine child “Adonai” is a theological claim, a heavenly claim.  To call him “Dux” or, as in a few days time, “Rex”, is a temporal claim, an earthly claim.  If you will, it is a political claim. In Greek it is usually rendered “Kyrie” which is a title for Caesar.  In Latin the title is usually “Domine” here, however, the text takes up the Hebrew word, one of the Divine Names – using it untranslated, to better make the theological point: this is God in the Flesh. As noted, it’s backed up with a temporal title, “Dux” or “Duke”.  God was both of these things to Ancient Israel until they begged for an Earthly King “like the other tribes”.  God said this desire for a visible, human Dux was a rejection of his kingship.  In his mercy he gave them what they asked for, first a “king that looked like a king” in Saul, then a king that acted like one in David.  Perhaps in a divine show of humor, he became one of the children of that earthly kingship: in and by himself returning the throne and crown to himself. As he is the Lawgiver in heaven through Moses, so he is the lawgiver on earth through his Church. The divine and the earthly are joined in this man: Christ is both God and Man and he is Lord of Heaven and Earth, both Adonai and Dux.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty, and awe.

What would it mean for a human person – or nation – to call this God-Man, “Adonai et Dux”?  We know that Jesus, himself, said that just saying this was enough:

Non omnis qui dicit mihi, Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum caelorum: sed qui facit voluntatem Patris mei, qui in caelis est, ipse intrabit in regnum caelorum. 

Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

Matthew 7:21

Saint Paul adds: Et nemo potest dicere, Dominus Jesus, nisi in Spiritu Sancto. And no man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost. (I Corinthians 12:3) Simply saying it is not enough – there is the doing. Saint James says, “Estote autem factores verbi, et non auditores tantum: fallentes vosmetipsos.” But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (1:22) Saying is a start: but doing is the key.

I am aware at how good I am at saying.  I am equally aware at how good my friends are at calling bull-pucky.  I am thankful for my friends, liberal and conservative, Christians and not, who have challenged me since High School: saying you cannot be both Gay and Christian without warping one or the other beyond all recognition – so much so as to no longer need the name.  I’m sorry it took most of my life to hear them, but I am thankful for them.   Ditto the people who call bull-pucky on my lack of charity or, most recently, on my sloth.  Saying, “Jesus is Adonai and Dux” means a serious essay towards fixing things over which he’s not Lord. I have learned to hear my Holy Guardian Angel saying “Stop That”.  Just gotta learn to listen…

Thing is, Jesus makes it clear it’s possible not to get this point at all.

Multi dicent mihi in illa die: Domine, Domine, nonne in nomine tuo prophetavimus, et in nomine tuo daemonia ejecimus, et in nomine tuo virtutes multas fecimus? Et tunc confitebor illis: Quia numquam novi vos: discedite a me, qui operamini iniquitatem.

Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.  

Matthew 7:22-23

It’s possible to spend your entire life going to church or thinking “spiritually” but never change your bed, your food, your social patterns.  It’s possible for people to look at you and say “Yeah, he’s a Christian, but I’m thankful he’s not that sort of Christian: he’s kinda cool.”  Or, if they are your friends, really, they may challenge your integrity on that point.  Be sure to listen then – it may save your soul.

There will be preachers and prostitutes, pious peddlers and impious pastors, popes, police, patriarchs, politicians, and you and I standing before the throne at the last day: will our lives – or only our words – say “Adonai et Dux”?

What do your friends think?

O Wisdom: 1st Advent Meditation

By way of introduction I have been posting meditations on the “Great O” Antiphons since I was Chrismated in 2002. There are seven in the Tridentine liturgy plus one more from the Sarum Rite. These 8 antiphons space out rather nicely over the 40 days of the Byzantine Rite Advent Fast which starts today, 15 Nov. I will, God Willing, post on 20th, 25th, and 30th November, 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th December. For a good bit of history (as well as html Frames!) see Fr Z’s page here. He also does meditations on the Antiphons and some of my RCC and even WR friends may appreciate his take more!


Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

This Advent I’m meditating on failure – mine, mostly, but our shared failures as well.  Another word for failure is “harmartia“, which comes from the Greek ἁμαρτία, from ἁμαρτάνειν hamartánein, which means “to miss the mark” or “to err”.  It’s usually translated “sin”, but I’m going to stick with failure for now because I am here, “Midway in the journey of our life” and it seems a good time to do so.  So this is a sort of “Life Confession” or “Midlife Confession”.

From 5th Grade, at least, I wanted to be a minister.  Our family was Methodist. I’ve no idea what the Methodist “Ordination Process” was like in 1974, but it was probably some low-church version of “lunch with the Bishop.”  If the Lunch ended with “you’er a nice young man, perhaps you should consider seminary?”  You were on you way.  That lunch would not happen until late in High School, but from fifth grade on I was teaching Sunday School and preaching the “Youth Sunday” Sermon.  Pastor Bob was a great encouragement to me in Wurtsboro, NY, as was Pastor Jim when we moved to Acworth, GA.  But somehow, 40 years later, I’m not ordained.

This self-evident fact was given to me like a hard face slap a couple of years ago, just after my 49th birthday, as a friend was ordained to the priesthood.  I realized that given all the same choices as I, he had taken them differently in several places and his choices had led him to where I had claimed to want to go. Another friend was ordained this Summer and his mother commented regarding her pride in the choices he had made to get there.  She used the words “Sacrifice” and “Integrity”.  These are not words I would be able to use to describe my life’s journey.

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who orders all things mightily,
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

The invocation of Divine Wisdom – Sapientia in Latin, Sophia in the Greek – at the beginning of these Advent Devotions is to a specific end: the inculcation of Prudence in the worshipers.  But what is Prudence?  It is one of the four Cardinal Virtues which also include Justice, Temperance, and Courage. (There are also three “Theological Virtues”: Faith, Hope, and Charity.) Prudence is primarily about foresight, about seeing which of several possible choices is the moral choice, the right choice.  By the correct actions we can grow the other virtues as well.  Prudence is regarded as a prime virtue for this reason: you can’t get the others without it.  But what is “correct action”?

In Orthodox and Catholic understanding of the human person man’s natural state of being, his φύσις or “phusis” is according to God’s plan for his life.  In this natural state – that state “according to our nature”, the nature God intended for us – man makes prudent (correct) choices and from this correct action flows. Correct action is according to our nature.  Our failures throw this prudence off course.  We make a choice based on other things: and so our choices are against nature or παρά φύσιν (para phusin) which really means “to the side” of nature: and look, we’re back to missing the mark again. We’re off to the side.

Paul uses παρά φύσιν in his epistle to the Roman to describe a number of things including same-sex sexual activities, men pretending to be women or vice versa.  Our answer to that charge, today, is “Yes, but this is my nature.  Paul had no idea about my nature.  For me to pretend to be something else would be against my nature.”  To this individualistic claim, Advent is a Divine Slapdown. Human nature is one ontological whole: yes there are many persons who are human, but there is only one Human Nature.  Just as there are three persons in the One Divinity, so there is One Humanity.  In the incarnation of that one Divinity as One of Us, part of the One Humanity, the natures are joined.  It is not my nature: it’s nature.

Your nature is no different from mine save in the ways each of us fails in the path of prudence – of making choices based not on the Divine Plan but on our own plans, our emotions, or our feelings. Human freedom lies not in the ability to choose to do anything we want, but rather our freedom to be the most amazing humanity possible lies in the choice for God’s plan – not our own.  When we choose else we are not being free: we are led away as slaves to our own reasonings, our body’s cravings, our appetites, or on our Passions, as the theologians would say.  When we convince ourselves that “This thing contrary to God’s plan is really who I am” we are exposing our own lack of understanding of our shared human nature.  We are rather like a street car refusing to ride on the tracks laid out for it – and insisting that it’s a better street car because of its ability to jump the rails.

The first Great O Antiphon is a prayer for Divine Sophia, to teach us prudence, to show us the way to go.  We want her to put our lives in o that “all things mightily and sweetly” dance into which she orders the world. We want her to make our lives, to borrow a pun from the Latin, suave.  As Sophia is Christ, the Incarnation itself is an answer to this prayer. Jesus becomes man to restore our sanity, to restore to us our natural, inborn ability to make the right choices, to become fully human (like Christ) which is the first step to becoming divine.

To get to right action again – after we’ve jumped the rails, as it were – requires a metanoia often translated as “changed mind” or “repentance”, as in “If you miss the mark, you must repent”.  But it’s  not just a “changed mind” but “beyond mind”.  We need to get beyond our own thinking, our own little box of ideas about “who I am”.  Advent is the only way out: God becomes us so we may join him in the dance.  God reveals to us in himself the fullness of humanity and, by becoming man, restores to all of us our natural humanity.

When I look at my life I see that my choices were imprudent because they were para-phusis, if phusis is understood as a divine revelation.  I will admit my choices caused me and others much temporary happiness, but I can not say that they have made me into the person I wanted to be way back in  fifth grade.  Nor, to judge by my active life in the confessional, have they made me into the person God wanted me to be.

Which leaves me with one remaining question: perhaps that desire, first voiced in 1974 or ’75, was the wrong choice.  Can a fifth grade be prudent? Is it possible for the fifth grader to derail the man?

Daily Readings 14 – 21 Dec AD 2013

The Daily Offices for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Rite of St Tikhon. The readings are as assigned by the Antiochian Western Rite Vicariate supplemented with other devotional material. Each MP/EP link will take you to a complete office, needing only the daily psalter or, for MP, the Martyrology link.


  1. Saturday Conception 8va (Advent Feria) – MPEP – Martyrology
  2. 3rd Sunday of Advent  (Octave Day of the Conception) – MPEPMartyrology
  3. Monday Advent Feria VI O Sapientia (St Eusebius of Vercelli, BM) – MPEP – Martyrology
  4. Tuesday Advent Feria V before Nativity O Adonai  – MPEP – Martyrology
  5. Ember Wednesday Advent Feria IV before Nativity – O Radix – MPEP – Martyrology
  6. Thursday Advent Feria III before Nativity – O ClavisMPEP – Martyrology
  7. Ember Friday Advent Feria II before Nativity – O Orient MPEP – Martyrology
  8. St Thomas the Apostle (Ember Day Advent Feria O RexMPEP – Martyrology

O Oriens – 5th Advent Meditation

 Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

 Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.


Dawn… it’s the slow realization of the light.

There’s a prayer in the communion preparations of the Western Rite that says, Tibi, Domine, plagas meas ostendo, tibi verecundiam meam detego. “Lord, I show my wounds to Thee and uncover my shame before Thee.”

What does the light uncover in you? Whatever you are hiding from the light, that will be the death of you.

Modern psychology speaks of our shadow side or our darker self as if it were a good thing to confront and live with.  Christianity, however, wants to make us all children of the light – sons of the Father of Lights in whom there is no shadow.  Orthodoxy would go so far as to say that the shadow is what gets burnt up by our God who is a “Consuming Fire”.

Remember, what you are hiding: that will be the death of you.

What is it that gets revealed by the Divine Light? What is it that you throw away to burn?

This is the Orthodox Sacrament of Confession, the holy mystery of Reconciliation.  What you expose no longer kills you: it dies.  But you die, too, a little bit. That part of you that was living, if you will, with a cancerous growth, a parasite dies as well.  This might be a time when “parasite” is the most literally correct word: it comes from Greek roots meaning “along side” and “food”.  A “parasite” is something that we are feeding with our own food – other than our real self.  The parasite is the thing that is eating us: a false self.  Our sinful nature is not really us.  What we do does not define who we are.

What do you bring to the light?