O Key of David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.


What is happening here? After yesterday’s particularity, the coming Christchild is called the key of David, seemingly reverting back to something less-particular. I struggle with this verse every year because the rod of David’s father is now David’s key. What is happening here?

David is known for ruling Israel, begetting Solomon the Wise, and writing the Psalms. How is Jesus the Key of David?

The Psalms are considered by Christian tradition to be the prophetic heart of the Old Testament. In the Orthodox Church David is called a prophet for his crafting of these texts. But it is not clear how many many messianic images are here to be fulfilled until one begins to notice how often the Psalms come up in the New Testament and in the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic texts. The Church has read this whole book in the light of Christ since the very beginning.

Monastics in the desert prayed these texts from memory, meditating on the words, the word order, and the progression of symbols. St Gregory of Nyssa even found salubrious content in the inscriptions for the Psalms! From this process of prayer and meditation, the Church has allowed David’s deepest meaning to be unveiled, unlocked by Christ.

So Christ is the key of the Psalms and so of all the Hebrew Scriptures. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) He unlocks the text and no one can shut it. Once you see the meaning, you can’t unsee it. And all of even his own life points to his death.

The dirty wood of the manger becomes the dirty word of the cross. The swaddling clothes become the winding sheets of the tomb. The tears of joy from his mother become her deepest sadness at the cross. The shepherds who worship become the crowd of scorners. The Kings doing homage become the soldiers and officials taunting him. The blood and water of birth become the blood and water from his side. The angels Gloria becomes stunned silence. The lost family looking for a place to lay a new baby becomes the lost friends looking for a place to lay a dead man. Jesus is the key… everything is unlocked.

What does Jesus lock? Escape is no longer an option. We have more on that in the next post on the antiphons.

O Root

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.


At the heart of the story of the Incarnation is one family, one mother, one Child. We can see this: God working through an ever-tightening circle, from All the World to > All Israel > Southern Kingdom > Tribe of Judah > Jesse’s family >Joseph and Mary > Jesus. But the target, even at the end, is All the World. God uses one particular thing. One and only one.

Christmas shares not only God’s love for us but also God’s love for each one of us, for you, for me, as individuals. See: God works through individual actions, individual choices, individual moments. God literally has to do this because he has given us this world of time, of space, where the only thing that ever exists is this moment now. Yes, God is Almighty and he can act in history but history only comes in the smallest of individual moments, one at a time. Each moment incarnating and passing away like the tiny ovum that becomes a full-grown baby and then a man who dies, but only one moment at a time.

The Root of Jesse means only one person: not all the tribe of Judah, not all of Israel, but only this one person, born of one person, born of one person, etc. God acting even in ancient times: through prostitutes and adulterers. Through gentiles and evil villains. Through kings and commoners. All these made up Jesus’ family tree! God’s final act is coming soon: a cowshed, smelling of poop and dirt, and the standard-issue human birth in blood and water. A baby.

God loves us this much. And not just us: you are loved this much. One particular birth for one particular soul. The Radix Jesse in exchange for you.

This is why kings stand silent. No human leader or head of state knows his people like Jesus knows you, even if you don’t follow him or believe he exists. Jesus knows you, was born for you, died for you. While I believe the reigning Monarchs of the world have human interactions, I’m not at all sure about the elected politicians. They seem grossly out of touch. Jesus, however, knows you.

The particular of you will be different. But for me, it dawned on me, last week that Jesus loved me, died for me, knowing of all my sexual sins, all my addictions, all my failures of pride, gluttony, sloth, and envy. Jesus loved me first despite all that and thought it was worth it to enter history, to give up heavenly glory, to humbly submit to the will of the Father, to die for me.

As the Christmas Carol says, “Who would not love him, loving us so dearly?” My brothers and sisters, not us, but me? How can I not love this God, this Man, this particular baby, this particular birth in that it shows so much love for me?

Come along: know his love for you. The rod of Jesse’s stem sprung forth for us from a withered stump, rises without delay to deliver each of us.

O Virgin


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.

This Antiphon, from the Use of Sarum, is common among Anglo-Catholics. I’m not sure but maybe it has come to the Anglican Use Catholics as well. It’s not part of the traditional Roman use, but once upon a time there were other O Antiphons as well. The 6 or 7 we use are fine.

Let me make bold to offer a correction to the English of our accepted text here… not because it’s wrong in the translation, but because I think, for brevity’s sake, it misses the point. It may be singable, but that’s not what I want to do just now.

Try this:

The Daughters of Jerusalem say:
“O Virgin of virgins,
how shall this be?
For neither before was any like thee,
nor shall there be after.”
And Our Blessed Lady responds:
“Daughters of Jerusalem,
why marvel ye at *me*?
Divine is the Mystery you discern.”

That is what Our Lady does: she always points away from her self – to Christ. And she does so in the hymns of the Church as well, although common folklore can creep in and create a near goddess (as in the case with the Joy of All Who Sorrow icon, or the devotion to Our Lady Multiplier of Wheat) or a Perfect Mommy (as in some Latin and Mediterranean devotions). We can stretch it very far, though, before it breaks and, even in the most Mary-Centered moments, if we let her speak, she still points us towards her Divine Human Son.

Christmas is, of course, one of those moments. The Baby is easy to overlook while surrounded by all these adults. Mary is most evident: in the English mystery plays she even births the Child by herself while Joseph is out trying to find midwives. We can over-emphasise her place, to the point where, like the hymn, we seemingly mix the “mother and child” image into one of “Round yon Virgin”.

The iconic tradition is to always show her with her Child – although some more recent icons show her alone. The Western tradition seems to emphasise her virginity over and above all things while the Eastern seems to emphasise her role as the Birth-Giver of God. But the hymn has it right: “Round yon virgin mother… and child” Her virginity is good, yes, but meaningless without her motherhood and the reverse is equally true. It is not what or who she is that is important but rather what and who she is in relation to Christ that is important. This is true of all of us: none of us is anything save in relation to Christ. And no human being (even those who deny it) is without this relationship. For Human Nature is one in all of us including the God-Man (or God-Baby) Jesus.

Christ is the only way God makes himself known – all truth about God comes through Christ, the Law of Moses, the visit of Angels to Abraham, and even, according to St Justin, the True teachings of Socrates, Plato and so on (the Truth of Lao Tzu, of the Hopi, of anyone) is there to the degree that Christ revealed it. Without that Truth revealed in Christ there is no truth at all. The same is true of our relationships, of our humanity. We become fully who we are only in Christ. Mary is who she is only because of Christ. I will, God willing, one day become who God Created me to be – but only because of Christ. No one can be fully human with out that – because therein we find the true source of our Humanity.

Mary does, in this antiphon, exactly what our ancient spiritual ancestors, the Martyrs, did: rejecting all honours, forfeiting even what is rightfully hers to say, “This is a divine mystery, I have no crown but Christ. Look at my Son.” There, in her self-emptying which follows her Son’s own self-emptying, we find the one thing that we, too, must do: we must pour ourselves out, give ourselves away to make Him more present in our lives and to our neighbours.

The only Christmas Present is Christ given through yourself to another.


This is the last meditation in the Advent Series. Advent is over, but we’re not there yet. We have come to the cave, we now await only the miracle.

Be thou ready, Bethlehem, Eden hath opened unto all.
Ephratha, prepare thyself, for now, behold,
the Tree of life hath blossomed forth
in the cave from the Holy Virgin.
Her womb hath proved a true spiritual Paradise,
wherein the divine and saving Tree is found,
and as we eat thereof we shall all live,
and shall not die as did Adam.
For Christ is born now
to raise the image that had fallen aforetime.

On this day the Virgin cometh to a cave
to give birth to God the Word ineffable,
Who was before all the ages.
Dance for joy, O earth,
on hearing the gladsome tidings;
with the Angels and the shepherds
now glorify Him Who is willing
to be gazed on as a young Child
Who before the ages is God.

I thank you for joining me on these meditations. A blessed Christmas – Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

O Emmanuel


O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the one awaited by the gentiles, and their Savior: come to save us, Lord our God.

Once in royal Davids city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little Child.

INCARNATION is always confusing.

Imagine yourself a devout and G-d-fearing man of the tribe of Judah, living in Roman-Occupied Israel, and wondering “How long, O L-rd, for ever?” You know the law, you know the prophets. When your family and community obligations allow, you go to the synagogue and pray. You make the annual trips to Jerusalem and offer sacrifice. You stand in the court of the Jews and see the glorious Levites and Cohanim offering their services before Ha Kadosh, Baruch Hu. And you know, in your heart, that He will come to save His people.

Outside your window one night a noisy crowd go past and, rising to investigate, you discover a group of shepherds. What news? Ma Khadosh, you ask. And you’re told of strange and wonderful things: angels and the redemption of Israel. You follow along. Your mind fills with strange ideas – angelic armies and flowing robes of gold, the Kingdom of David restored and your own tribe in glory. Rome at bay, justice done. You begin a Burucha, thanking G-d that He has counted you worthy to see this day.

And what? A stable? A cave? A manger? A baby!

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?


God with us: can anything be more surprising?

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

It’s about time to prepare the annual sermons about the homeless, poverty-ridden family from Nazareth and something about the poor and outcast and marginalised. Those are sermons for people who don’t believe in the miracle of Emanuel. The Church offers a very different story: of Righteous Joseph chosen by the elders exactly because he was wealthy enough to care for the Holy Maiden and her Child, of a family that was not “homeless” or marginalised – but well connected to the Priestly tribes and families of Israel.

None of that is important however: it’s the localised version of the Divine Institution known in the secular world as the Pax Romana. God prepared the Whole World to receive Himself. The Jews knew – but didn’t guess – their time of preparation was over. The Romans did not know – but they were prepared anyway. The family from Nazareth had been prepared and knew the Truth.

For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us, He grew;
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles, like us He knew;
And He cares when we are sad,
And he shares when we are glad.

And yet, a baby?

It would have been easier, I think, if the whole world had seen that night not a baby but the Infant of Prague: bejeweled and enrobed, radiant lighting, and, of course, a crown and orb. No one could doubt then, the miracle that had happened. That would look like God. But Incarnation calls for God to empty Himself, to take the form of a servant – a man like each of us. Incarnation takes away from us our dreams about “what we know God must really be like.” Incarnation – Revelation – God-With-Us requires us to say, “God is now not what I imagined, but what I see.” Incarnation requires that we give up our dreams of what we are certain God “really is” and accept God as He offers Himself. God with us means we can no longer project onto Him all our idols and vainglorious “gods and goddesses”. Rather we must take what we are given – or refuse Him outright. God is with us – even to the end of the age. It is we who must decide to walk away.

Incarnation means God is no longer in our little boxes. Incarnation does away with all the theology, all the philosophy that we might dream up and hold out as a model of God. Incarnation trims away the refuse and focuses all the dreams into one point, one here, one now.


We must say yes or no.

But a baby? Coming into the world just like each of us – Eyes closed, sleeping, crying, looking slightly like Winston Churchill, rolling in hay and surrounded by beasts. This, surely, is not the Holy One of Israel, the Giver of the Law, the Sun of Righteousness, the King of Glory. This is only a baby.

Or is it?

We have all waited so long, and each of us prepared in God’s own way, we are here. Gathered. Waiting.


And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And He leads His children on,
To the place where He is gone.

O King

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

O King of the Nations,
and the one they desired,
who makes both peoples one,
come and save mankind,
whom you shaped from the mud.

There is this curious article by Philip Turner that showed up in First Things a few years ago and still surfaces every once in a while.

Like many such things it posits to tell “What is really wrong with the Episcopal Church” and launches into a rant about liberal theology. There is a radically new theology being taught in ECUSA, goes the line. It’s the death knell of Christianity as we know it. There is the fully descriptive quote describing this theology:

The Episcopal sermon, at its most fulsome, begins with a statement to the effect that the incarnation is to be understood as merely a manifestation of divine love. From this starting point, several conclusions are drawn. The first is that God is love pure and simple. Thus, one is to see in Christ’s death no judgment upon the human condition. Rather, one is to see an affirmation of creation and the persons we are. The life and death of Jesus reveal the fact that God accepts and affirms us. From this revelation, we can draw a further conclusion: God wants us to love one another, and such love requires of us both acceptance and affirmation of the other. From this point we can derive yet another: Accepting love requires a form of justice that is inclusive of all people, particularly those who in some way have been marginalized by oppressive social practice. The mission of the Church is, therefore, to see that those who have been rejected are included-for justice as inclusion defines public policy. The result is a practical equivalence between the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and a particular form of social justice.

But we need to see that quote with a backdrop of light cast by today’s verse: Christ is the One “who makes both peoples one”. Saint Paul’s epistles are filled with this message of “both peoples one”. In Christ all of us are made one. It really is a message of radical inclusion such as we have no human concept of how to manifest it.

I posit that the issue is not the theology but the disconnection of the theology from its roots, its wholeness: its Catholicity. To understand the message of radical inclusion, one must hear the Full Faith without the nihilism of the reformation that occluded so much of the Truth, or with the inclusion of the the material that leaks through the cracks caused by the wresting of otherwise faithful folks from the bosom of the our faithful Mother Church. It is a message of radical inclusion such as we have no human concept of how to manifest it – outside of the Church.

The quote ably describes a sermon I preached – I confess I was in error. But the error was not in telling a lie, the error was in not telling the full truth. The “Radical justice of Inclusion” is seen outside of the bonds of the Church’s faith: yes we’re all included, we’re all invited to the Eucharistic Banquet of eternity, but the liberal Protestant often version misses the time and the place – imagining it’s here and now, a kingdom of this world. The Conservative Protestant version often misses the dress code, and the reality that it is a party to which we are invited, not a funeral. There’s a near Gnostic hatred of the flesh in the ultra-‘reformed’ traditions, puritanism, tee-totalism, “original sin” and other aspects of the West show it up. Fundamentalism in both its liberal and conservative forms ignores the truth of the Church…

There are sermons in the Fathers that offer much the same message: In Homily V on Ephesians, which touches on the “middle wall” passage, St John Chrysostom says,

What the middle wall of partition is, he interprets by saying, “the enmity having abolished in His flesh, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances.”

Some indeed affirm that he means the wall of the Jews against the Greeks, because it did not allow the Jews to hold intercourse with the Greeks. To me, however, this does not seem to be the meaning, but rather that he calls “the enmity in the flesh,” a middle wall, in that it is a common barrier, cutting us off alike from God. As the Prophet says, “Your iniquities separate between you and Me;” (Isa. lix: 2.) for that enmity which He had both against Jews and Gentiles was, as it were, a middle wall. And this, whilst the law existed, was not only not abolished, but rather was strengthened; “for the law,” saith the Apostle, “worketh wrath.” (Rom. iv: 15.) Just in the same way then as when he says in that passage, “the law worketh wrath,” he does not ascribe the whole of this effect to the law itself, but it is to be understood, that it is because we have transgressed it; so also in this place he calls it a middle wall, because through being disobeyed it wrought enmity.

The law was a hedge, but this it was made for the sake of security, and for this reason was called “a hedge,” to the intent that it might form an inclosure. For listen again to the Prophet, where he says, “I made a trench about it.” (Isa. v: 2.) And again, “Thou hast broken down her fences, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her.” (Ps. lxxx: 12.) Here therefore it means security and so again, “I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be trodden down.” (Isa. v: 5.) And again, “He gave them the law for a defence.” (Isa. viii: 20.) And again, “The Lord executeth righteous acts and made known His ways unto Israel.” (Ps. ciii: 6, Ps. ciii: 7.)

It became, however, a middle wall, no longer establishing them in security, but cutting them off from God. Such then is the middle wall of partition formed out of the hedge. And to explain what this is, he subjoins, “the enmity in His flesh having abolished, the law of commandments.”

St John, if we’re not careful, can sound like the most liberal of post-modernists.

It’s not in the content that ECUSA fails, but in the application. The truth of radical inclusion isn’t a secular one one where we can willy nilly include everyone based on their exclusion in the secular world. More importantly the truth of radical inclusion is not morality-free. The truth of radical inclusions does not over-ride the radical truth of free will: we’re all still free to make choices that put us further away from God rather than closer to Him. The Church shows us by God’s revelation the choices that are to be made to bring us closer to Him. The Church shows us the complications arising from other choices.

But knowing the consequences is not the same as making the choices: which we each must do on his own. Christ is the One that all peoples have desired: but He also must be the one you, yourself desire. When one loves Christ one seeks purity, one seeks communion, one seeks fellowship: one comes to Christ seeking to be made into the image of Christ. One brings one’s will to Christ seeking to conform that will to Christ.

The radical inclusion of the Gospel, and the radical mercy that God offers, terrifies people so much that on the liberal side they deny it by making it meaningless – they deny the changes that are made in the human heart included by God. When one has sat at their table long enough in their purely worldly party, one is horrified to find out one is not in the Church. On the conservative side they deny God’s inclusions by doing away with it legalistically: setting so many hoops and obstacles that, having jumped them all (as if it were possible) one is horrified to find one has jumped out of the Church. They turn the most joyous thing ever into “God’s difficult redemptive love” as Turner says. Sounds rather like a medical procedure, huh?

In the Church, however, God’s radical inclusion is offered to us along with all the changes it requires of us and effects in us. The salvation that is offered to us, the theosis that happens in us, the change of mind required of us waits only our choices. God’s radical inclusion is not a civil rights law, nor is it any kind of law at all. It is the revolution that changes nothing but the human heart: that makes us all one in God.

Of course, that last line about the mud… that’s not a hint that God created us in any way. Certainly it means we all evolved from the slime.

O Oriens

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

O Dawn, splendor of eternal light, and sun of justice, come, and shine on those seated in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
This verse gets sung at sunset on the Longest Night of the Year. Light is a big part of the symbolism for this season. While there are different theories for the reason ranging from Jewish traditional piety to aggressively taking over another religion’s holiday, there can be no denial of the liturgical import of the increasing darkness in December and the birth of light symbolised by the winter solstice. Though, sure, this makes no sense at all in the Southern Hemisphere where it’s actually the Summer Solstice, but here in the North, this makes a lot of sense. And so this prayer for light is uttered in the darkness – mindful also that the Great O Antiphons were sung at vespers, in the darkness.
The dawn of God in our life is the beginning.
Step 11 sounds this out:
  • Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out.
We are praying for God to come into our lives and show us what to do – and to give us the awakening we need, as well as the will to move forward. That line “praying only for knowledge of His Will for us” is confusing: far far too often we might hear of prayers that we’ll “Get to win the lottery if it be Thy Will, Heavenly Father.” Or, “Lord, let me marry him, if you will it!” Or, my favourite, “Lord, let us XYZ according to thy will”, which means, essentially, let us do what we want to do and let us be deluded into thinking we have you on our side: you hear this a lot in prayers for soldiers and speeches by political leaders who talk about “Governing according to God’s will”
Fr Joseph once told me we already know what God’s will is.
1 Timothy 2:3-4
This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
And Donald made it clear to me once, telling me a story about Will Campbell, that the most radical (overthrowing, revolutionary, etc) verse in the Bible was 2 Corinthians 5:19. Namely, that in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
The full passage is:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
What is God’s will? That all should be saved.
What is God’s will? That we should be ministers of this reconciliation.
There is no other will for us.
I’m clear that God’s will towards this universal reconciliation does take different forms for each of us: but it’s not God’s will that I buy a house unless it leads to the reconciliation of the world. It’s not God’s will that I join the armed forces, unless it leads to the reconciliation of the world. It’s not God’s will that I marry that person over there unless it leads to the reconciliation of the world.This is the 12th Step happening.

  • 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The action of Reconciliation is the 12th Step. The restoration of the Net, the inviting of others into the Kingdom. The saving of thousands around you by the acquisition of the Spirit of Peace. 

In other words: there is no plan beyond salvation. The details are up to us. No choice should be made “with eyes to the future”, or with profit in mind or even wondering if there will be food on the table. No plan can be made unless this one question is asked: Is this choice, this plan, this job, this brunch date, this last YouTube posting, going to lead to the reconciliation of more of the world to God; of ourselves with each other?
Jesus points us this way: Love God and Love Neighbour are the same thing, and as we pray for God’s coming in Advent we need to know that God is coming to us every day in the lives of those people around us – on the Subway, on the Highway in the morning commute; in the office, in the school, in the shops of our daily life; in the beloved friend, the spouse, the absolute stranger we meet on the street. We need to see God and be reconciled to him. This is the dawn from on high breaking upon us.
The Church of England’s Common Worship Daily Prayer cycle has these two wonderful Advent prayers that point us in the right direction
Blessed are you, Sovereign God, creator of light and darkness, to you be glory and praise for ever. As evening falls, you renew your promise to reveal among us the light of your presence. May your word be a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path that we may behold your coming among us. Strengthen us in our stumbling weakness and free our tongues to sing your praise.
Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all, to you be praise and glory for ever. In your tender compassion the dawn from on high is breaking upon us to dispel the lingering shadows of night. As we look for your coming among us this day, open our eyes to behold your presence and strengthen our hands to do your will, that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Both ask that God reveal his presence among us – in the eyes of those whom we meet. 

O Clavis


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.
The Key of David opens the Gate of Heaven and Hell, it is the Key of Peter. It’s the sign Jesus gave to the 12 Apostles of the Authority of the Church to name his forgiveness before the world. Yet as the Key of David, it is Christ, himself. 
Beyond our usual sins, what holds us back is the realisation that we have sinned against others. There is no sin which is open-ended: every sin is a damaged relationship. There is no sin which is against myself, alone: there must always be another party. Indeed, in the New Creation, there is no sin that is “simply” against God: all sins damage a real, personal relationship between us and others – God included. When I fail to love God, I’m not loving my neighbour and vice versa. My sin damages the net of relationships that is drawing us all to heaven. Every sin is like the Original Sin.
When we take an inventory of our deeds, as we did in yesterday’s post, and find the deeds wanting we may still be trapped in sorrow and guilt because we realise: we have damaged relationships with other people.

One of the most moving things ever to happen to me was a phone call at 8AM in the morning from a person I’d not seen in several years. He had called, however, months before to rant and rave about some mutual enemies, to berate our choices and to lament our loss of connection. In those days you could find someone’s number after a few years by calling 411 and just asking. It was a disturbing phone call to get:he was angry and hurt and I was someone he could talk to, I guess. To be honest, as much as I missed my friend, I was happy when the call was over. But the second phone call, at 8AM was a bit of a surprise. He announced, without knowing who I was, that the previous phone call was made when he was drunk, and that he was calling me because my number was on his phone bill from that time period. Who was I and would I forgive him?

He was dealing with Step 8 and 9…

  • 8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 
  • 9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 
  • 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 

Sins are interpersonal. No matter how many times we go to confession, it is the interpersonal that matters.

When I left the Episcopal Church for Orthodoxy, I spent a good deal of time berating my former home until one day Bishop Seraphim told me to stop. He reminded me that those people loved me. They had done nothing wrong to me and, in fact, had led me to the next phase of my journey. Vladyka said to me, “There is grace before and behind.”

And I knew that I had to go and ask forgiveness. I called a friend and asked him to lunch and asked forgiveness of him – and of the community.

At another time, in my early twenties, I confessed shoplifting to a priest who asked me to return the items shoplifted…

It’s not that you have to do something in order to be forgiven. It’s that you have to live the forgiveness. Step 8 says “become willing to make amends” and Step 9 says we have to make amends “wherever possible” unless to do so would only further damage the relationship. You know places like that, no? Things that we needn’t bring up anymore… sins that to bring up would only make a greater harm. We’ve seen this in the child abuse scandals in other churches where to bring up the sins of the past is to relive them and damage others. We’ve seen it in South Africa, where Abp Tutu’s grace-filled Truth and Reconciliation committees only required that one say the truth… no matter how hard it was.

Christianity puts us in an odd place because it’s not about revenge, it’s not about “mking sure you get yours”, it’s about healing relationships.

So we must move forward – not backwards.

The key of David unlocks the doors forward and closes the doors to the past. We’re called to move forward, out of darkness. Jesus leads us, too. We’re able to lean on him to find the courage and the love to do these things.

Step 10 points out the crucial thing, though: we have to keep doing them. The Key of David, the Gate of Heaven and Hell, is the “Key of Peter”. It’s the sign Jesus gave to the 12 Apostles of the Authority of the Church to name his forgiveness before the world. And the way to do that is confession. Jesus is the Key… and he shared his authority with the Church, via the Apostolic Succession. Your priest wields that authority. “I absolve you in the name…” it is Christ, himself, speaking to you out of the darkness.

And having done so, we need to keep confession going. Confession is not a once and once only action: it is an on-going process of life reform. It is appropriate in Advent to take time out for a life exam and a sacramental confession, but, again, Advent is not a time of the year so much as it is a symbol. And so we are reminded now that confession is always. We must appeal to the Key of David for the grace to move forward.

And he gives it.

O Radix


O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, who stand as a sign for the people, kings stand silent in your presence, whom the nations will worship: come to set us free, put it off no longer.

Picking up the 12 steps, again, with a bit of overlap from the last time, we’ve realised things were a mess. We’ve realised, in fact, that the mess is our fault and now, we’ve admitted all that. And we’ve asked for help from something we don’t quite yet understand.
  • 5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • 6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • 7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Come and set us free: put it off no longer!
There is a poem by George Herbert, called “The Collar“, wherein the poet is yelling and screaming at God. And, at the end, God has heard everything and says, “My Child…” and the poet turns and say, “Lord?”
Recovery is such: when we realise the mess we are in, we sometimes still do not like the answer. We must come, in fact, to that moment of silence before the Root of Jesse. He doesn’t mind the ranting, he doesn’t mind the raving, but there is that moment when God gets his turn to speak, a moment of silence. It is the moment of revelation in our recovery. Having admitted that everything was broken, we hear God say, “My child…”
We have to be ready: God will remove it all – painfully, slowly, and not without all possible love and tenderness. But it still hurts. We don’t like this in our word today: we think anything that hurts must be bad, must be stopped. We melt like snowflakes before pain so much so that even hearing someone disagreeing with us can be called a “micro aggression” and you’ll be treated as if you hit someone. We don’t like pain: so we run away from a God who wants us to change. God says, “My  child, sit still…”
Advent, this season of waiting, is this moment of silence. It is, I think, the time when all of the world can hear God say, “My Child…” to each of us, individually. I don’t mean Advent, the liturgical season, however: the Church year is an Icon of our salvation. Each of us goes through Advent on her own terms. Each of us, eventually, comes to the stable when God says to him, “My Child…” and we each finally answer, “Lord?”
And then we can say, “come and set us free – and wait no longer!”
There is another poem, by John Donne, that speaks of this process rather differently. We’ll get to that next time and I promise it will not be late! But after God removes our short-comings, there is something more important for we are not set free for ourselves: Christianity is not about getting out of hell. It’s about getting into heaven. And, for all that it’s been a hard row to hoe so far, it only gets harder!

O Adonai


O 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.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

The way the last Antiphon connected with the 12 Steps drew me back again today as I mediated on O Adonai. I see an overlap in Step Three, and then Steps Four and Five tie in nicely.
  • 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Adonai” is the word used in place of the Divine name. The implication here is an invocation of YHVH, the One who Is, “I AM, That I AM”. God as we understand him – do any of us understand God? Personally, I find great comfort in the phrase “The one who is”, or “the Existing One” as it is sometimes translated. It’s a curious phrase when heard out of context – ie, without the understanding of its source. I heard it a lot in Eastern liturgy before I understood what it means. May “The one who is” or “the existing one” or “the Great I AM” bless us. And, in the liturgical context, as in this Antiphon, that title was applied to Jesus. This Jesus, the Great I AM, is he whose incarnation appeared in type to Moses in the Burning Bush: the Fire of Divinity moving in concert with the flesh of humanity.
Ultimately, the only way to understand God – as with any person – is to enter into conversation with that person. As God called Moses into fellowship at the Burning Bush, so God calls us (all humanity) into Fellowship in the incarnation of Jesus. Some images of Mary holding Jesus in her arms are called icons of The Burning Bush.
The traditional (Eastern and Western) understanding of the actions of God in the Jewish Scriptures are that they are actions of the Son through whom the Father acts: the Son is the Creator. The Son is the one who walked with Adam in the cool of the evening; and the Son is the one whom Jacob saw above the ladder, etc. This method of Reading Jesus back into the Hebrew Scriptures is confusing to some but entirely based on the faith that Jesus is the Promised One. This is God as we understand him in the only way we have – ie in God’s revelation to us.
And this Jesus is the one revealed the Law on Mt Sinai.
“Making a searching and fearless moral inventory” is not about legalism: it is about realising that I am weak. One of the cool tools available for us in the Christian tradition (East and West) is the practice of fasting and abstaining from certain foods at certain times. It’s not because these foods are evil, per se, or even “unclean”. The whole point is to train the body to do what is wanted, rather than to constantly give into cravings or promptings to indulge. The revelation of the law on Mt Sinai, even though it can give rise to microscopic legalisms (see following) is, essentially, a training programme as Paul says.
But as we’re “making a search and fearless moral inventory” we need to hear the voice of Grace. The first rule of fasting and abstinence is not to (eg) avoid meat on Fridays, but rather to eat all things sat before you with thanksgiving to God.
I remember once sitting in Fr Victor’s dining room during a fasting period. Matushka Barbara made us coffee and sat it down with heavy cream. I asked for creamer… and got a loving lesson in hospitality from the two of them.
Once, during Lent, a woman brought lox to a church supper and I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to eat it or not. What I did do was judge her for bringing the fish.
The law revealed on Sinai is a temptation to get hung up on pork and shrimp, sex, and clothing styles. The law is a temptation to judge others for their lack of keeping or their imperfections in keeping.
But the law – the “searching and moral inventory” – is only applicable in the first person. I am the only sinner I know.
Once during Advent someone brought me a plate of deviled eggs over which I worried rather a lot. I thought about giving the eggs away, but I ended up serving them at dinner and I ate one. I mentioned this to my confessor (Fr. David) who told me, “I never want to hear anything about food in confession again.”
To make a sin out of something that is no sin at all is to trip up on legalism. We can not admit “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” if we are straining at legal gnats or swallow planks of mumbo jumbo. We cannot admit “our wrongs” if we’re hung up on judging others. This is actually one place where I depart from many modern sorts of Rehab that are willing to blame parents (for “spoiling” the child or for abusing her), friends or family (for enabling) – and to judge them for it. I can’t confess the wrongs of my friends or family – nor can I judge them for such.
When I hold myself (and only myself) up to the code of Law revealed to Moses on Sinai, I’m without excuse: for I have failed on every point – especially the two important codes to Love God and Love Neighbour. I have no excuse or prayer in this matter but to beg for redemption.

O Sapientia


O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High, reaching out mightily from end to end, and sweetly arranging all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.
The first step is admitting you don’t know.
In all Twelve-step Programmes, the first three Steps are:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over This Thing and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The first Great O Antiphon condenses the first three steps into a prayer for wisdom. From the beginning we admit that we don’t know what to expect. We need wisdom.
This antiphon echoes this Eastern Rite Prayer, used at the beginning of all services in that tradition:
O heavenly king, consoler, spirit of truth, everywhere present and filling all things: Treasury of blessings and giver of life: Come, dwell within us and cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O good one!
Notice that the antiphon says God’s Wisdom “orders all things”, the Heavenly King is “everywhere present and filling all things”. Why is it then that the Omnipresent King must be invited to dwell in us, the Omnipotent Wisdom must be invited to come to us? Why are we the only part of Creation where God is Not? In the traditional story, it’s called “original sin” but that phrase comes with a lot of baggage: a good answer to think about is an addiction. Humans are addicted to the idea we can do it on our own. And over and over again we try and fail. The only self-made man (or woman) is either willingly or unwillingly blind to the presence of others and the action of God (these are the same thing, here). The only self-made man is delusional.
But, my! How we do love this delusion. America is founded on it – and we call it “the American Dream”.
Like drugs, it makes us feel strong and able to control the world around us. Like drugs, the delusion of self-sufficiency creates in me a masturbatory fantasy that all I am is all a product of me, myself and I – even covering up the presence of the drug! Like drugs, the delusion of self-sufficiency leads each who partakes down the path to Solipsism, the point that only I exist, all else is a product of my imagination. Eventually (quickly) it leads to the idea that I am God.
And then it goes downhill from there: Chaos ensues in and around the life of the self-sufficient man or woman who will admit no one as her equal. She becomes the center of her own universe, forgetting that there are, actually, other people here who are not extensions of oneself. Pain. Violence and abuse follow.
And in the end, insanity – both clinical and experienced.
And we see the product of this insanity around us: greed, abuse of power, selfishness, lack of love, lack of concern (and, more insidiously, self-interest disguised as love and concern). The world is now – and has nearly always been – falling into unmanageable chaos because of our illness.
Before I can utter the prayer of Wisdom’s Antiphon, I have to decide that there is, in fact, something greater than me. I have to admit not only that I am not all powerful – but that something else is. The first step is admitting there’s a problem: it’s not a diagnosis, but rather a confession. I may not know what the problem is, exactly. But I can easily see the effects. And having tried everything else, I’ve decided to give up and ask for help.
O, Heavenly King….
O, Wisdom from on High…
This is the first step.
We can not get to the virtue of Prudence – knowing when and how to act in the right manner – until we admit that we do no know, and need instruction. In another context, the scriptures urge us not to worry about what to say – for in the right moment, the Holy Spirit will tell us. Such is prudent speech, and such would be prudent action as well: not planned out, black and white thinking but in-the-moment choices for charity and grace. Not rigidity but openness. This flexibility and dance is the opposite of the uptight control of of the addict for whom any possibility of chance is a threat. It’s a mutual dance, however: as in rehab, one addict in denial throws the entire community off-balance.
Theologically it is also important: the NT stories are filled with people unable to recognise Jesus as the Messiah because they were expecting someone else. This is especially an issue today. Most people are sure they know who Jesus is…
Larry Norman’s “The Outlaw” takes us on this road:
some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
no one knew just where He came from or exactly what He’d done
but they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the run
some say He was a poet that He’d stand upon the hill
and His voice could calm an angry crowd or make the waves stand still
that He spoke in many parables that few could understand
but the people sat for hours just to listen to this man
some say He was a sorcerer a man of mystery
He could walk upon the water He could make a blind man see
that He conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread
that He talked of being born again and raised people from the dead
some say a politician who spoke of being free
He was followed by the masses on the shores of galilee
He spoke out against corruption and He bowed to no decree
and they feared His strength and power so they nailed Him to a tree
The last verse is the most important to his song, but I’ll leave it off with this comment: when confronted with a bunch of people who claim to know who Jesus is, it might be better to ask him yourself. We are all addicted to our ideas of who Jesus MUST be – but I’m comfortable saying what I’ve always said on this matter: if only it is true that God loves us and *wants* to love us more, then ask… and you’ll know.
The prayer for wisdom is admitting we don’t know.
It’s the right place – the only place, to start.