This is Not a Paid Advert


YOUR HOST JUST FINISHED his first semester studying Hebrew with Citizen Cafe Tel Aviv. I wanted to take a moment (ie, a Blog Post) to endorse, recommend, and otherwise invite. Citizen Cafe promises to get you to fluency in local, spoken Hebrew. They do not focus on reading or writing (at least in the early levels – I know in advanced classes they do read papers and stories). One semester is NOT enough, of course, but I feel a lot more fluent that I did 4 months ago.

The goal is to free the Hebrew in your head so that you have the courage to speak it. They use a very rapid-fire conversational technique combined with pop culture references. (Earlier, I posted a playlist of songs from class.) Some things that did not happen in my earlier Hebrew classes (or other language classes, for that matter): learning slang, learning to “listen fast” – hearing conversation and singing without having to say, “slow down…” – and learning to argue!

Why? You may ask.

When I studied Modern Hebrew at NYU – after failing other languages – I took to Hebrew rather well. It’s still the only other language that comes up in my dreams. What I said during the intake interview was that 35 years later (after NYU) I have a lot of Hebrew floating around in my brain. I wanted it to find a home. Citizen Cafe has helped a lot! Again, #NotAnAd (I get no referral credits here… this is just a love letter.)

Although I can recite prayers in Latin and, sometimes, in Irish and (briefly) in Welsh, I can actually pray in Hebrew. By that I mean I can put enough of my conscious mind forward in the words I’m saying to leave my deeper mind free for contemplation. Mind you, this is for words that I know, of course. However, my ability to read prayers out of the sidur or out of the scriptures has also improved.

Additionally, I’ve been writing my own spiritual texts, but I don’t know if they hold up grammatically.

שוע, קח הכל. כל מה ששלך רומם. כל מה שלא שלך האבד. כל מה שחסר יושלם בך.

Jesus, take it all: All that is yours, exalt. All that is not yours, destroy. Everything that is lacking will be completed in you.

The last line is from a song by Shilo Ben Hod. The first line too, although that’s a more common line in many worship songs and meditations from the saints. The whole prayer began meditating on that last line. I say it at communion time and any other time when we need to make an offering of what we are doing.

Anyway, I had so much fun in this semester’s Hebrew class that I signed up again for next semester. And I am happy to suggest others should try Citizen Cafe Tel Aviv. You may not be lucky enough to get my teacher, Lior, who is quite perfect, but they have a LOT of teachers. Anyone you get will be awesome!

I’ve moved up from Orange to Pink. Can you help me buy a copy of שר הטבעות (Lord of the Rings)?

יאללה ביי

Srugim Theme Song


OK, I knew I liked the song, but I wasn’t picking out many words except the bit about this world and the world to come. I had a general idea that it was sorta religious… but wow.

I pursue Your laws, on the one hand
On the other, my passion pursues me.
Ashamed and embarrassed, I will enter Your gates.
And the long nights and the loneliness and the years,
And this heart that has not known peace.
Until the sea becomes quiet, until the shadows disappear.

אני רודף אחר חוקיך, מחד
מאידך תשוקתי אותי רודפת
בוש ונכלם אבוא בשעריך
והלילות הארוכים והבדידות ושנים
והלב הזה שלא ידע מרגוע
עד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצללים
Where shall I go, to where will I turn, when Your eyes gaze upon me?
Where shall I flee, how will I not turn away?
Between truth and truth,
Between law and practice.
Between the days of yore and modern times.
Between the hidden and the revealed,
Between the world to come and this world.

לאן אלך, אנה אפנה, כשעיניך מביטות בי
איכה אברח, איך לא אפנה
בין אמת לאמת
בין הלכה למעשה
בין הימים ההם לזמן הזה
בין הנסתר לנגלה
בין העולם הבא לעולם הזה
I pursue Your laws, on the other hand my passion burns me
Fierce as death, terrible as troops with banners
The long nights and the loneliness and the years,
And this heart that has not known peace.
Until the sea becomes quiet, until the shadows disappear
Bring me back!

רודף אחר חוקיך, מאידך תשוקתי אותי שורפת
עזה כמוות, איומה כנדגלות
הלילות הארוכים והבדידות והשנים
והלב הזה שלא ידע מרגוע
עד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצללים
Where shall I go, to where will I turn

לאן אלך, אנה אפנה

Not the Right Monks (repost)

Another repost from 2004 LiveJournal.

I know I am, but what are you?


I DON’T KNOW WHERE I picked up the line “these are not the right monks”. I know it’s either patristic, or Merton (Sign of Jonas), or Lewis (Screwtape) or Schmemann. Hell, it may be me.

It refers to the idea that all that I’m doing to work out my salvation is wasted because I’m surrounded by idiots or heretics or both. It says, in clearest terms, “These folks are so unholy I’ll never get saved.”

And that saying is a true saying: If I can see how unholy those are around me, I’ll never get saved.

But the sword, decidedly, does not cut both ways. The answer is not in cutting off the neighbor that offends me but rather in plucking out the eye that offends… mine.

I am trapped in a world that constantly urges me to compare myself with others as a measure of “how’m I doin?” And the last thing I want to do is go get some feedback (positive or negative) from those in authority over me. I’d much rather ask the (obviously moronic) dolt who is standing right next to me. And when I get an answer I don’t like? “FEH! What does he know anyway?”

I am overcome this evening by the fact that one of the traditional monastic vows is stability. I know how much I like change, I know how much I need to have my tuchas kicked to get me out of a rut, but really, when I’m honest, I do not enjoy the responsibilities that come with being stable. You stay in one place, stay in one job, stay in one apartment, you don’t ever have to worry about moving, about finding a vocation about living the life God may be calling you to.

Change is, of course, sometimes required… except it’s called “growth” and transformation. The changes we make are in ourselves. It’s called Salvation.

The one thing I’ve noticed is after an idea has percolated in my head, it’s time to ask my Spiritual Father. Yes, I know, cultism rears its ugly head. But that’s the man God has placed in Authority over me. Oddly enough I’ve never brought a major life change to my priest (either of them) that he didn’t bless (like moving to NC, or getting this new job).

And you know, things go better with blessings.

I know, someplace in my heart, that these are the right monks because there are times when I’d really rather be anywhere other than here. I know these are the right monks because when I manage to put my ego away I learn some things that I don’t know. I know that these are the right monks because these are my family. I know these are the right monks because suddenly I see Christ where ever I look: except in my own heart. Most importantly, I know these are the right monks because this is where God has placed me. It’s not a matter of feeling, or of warm fuzzies. It’s a faith thing. When these are not the right monks… I’m losing my faith in God.

So, thank You, God. I’m not really smarter than You. I can’t go one better than You saying “no, really, I know where I’d do better than where You put me. Oddly enough I always seem to do worse there.

Gen X @ 40 (Reposted 18 years later)

An essay from my Live Journal Days, dated 29 Aug 2004, my 40th Birthday. I called it the beginning of midlife. I’m kinda past that now a few years away from Officially Old. So, reposting.


Hmmmmmm. Lessee…

  • New two-wheeled vehicle that goes faster than anything I’ve owned previously… Check.
  • Vehicle painted red… Check.
  • Ditched previous friends, jobs, home and relocated… Check.
  • Dated person(s) between half and two-thirds current age… Check (I’ve done that so many times I feel like Tom Sellick in Friends)
  • Consumed with thoughts about the meaning of life, mortality and lack of impact on the surrounding world… Check.

Let Midlife BEGIN!

Ten years ago I was trapped on Fire Island. T was sitting in a hot tub looking off into space like someone who had just died and gone to limbo while we missed ferry after ferry back to Long Island, thus missing train after train back to the City. When I arrived finally, at the class I was to teach that afternoon – nearly 2 hours late (class was two hours long) I slammed open the door, stomped up the stairs and found my co-teacher standing in the middle of the room wearing a face that, well, only J could wear. I started to apologize and, in the long dressing mirror over her shoulder, I saw a gang of people jammed into the corner of the kitchen with flowers and glasses of champagne. They were giggling in the way that people do just before they all yell SURPRISE.

And so, there I was in my first ever surprise party at the age of 30. I had asked for one. I had given my roomie a list of invitees and left it to him. How was I to know that he would conspire with nearly everyone to pull it off?

And here I am, ten years later.

Oddly enough none of the people at that party are still in my life other than the occasional email. I’ve moved from that apartment in Richmond Hill – to a house in Astoria and thence to San Francisco from whence I most recently hied to here, Asheville, NC, CSA. I’ve lost my dwarves and my wizard…

I was thinking of profound things to write here, having reached half of my fourscore (if in strength), and so I was ruminating through my past: famous people I have known or touched or with whom I have otherwise congressed; events and actions that made me happy or sad, proud or ashamed; places I’ve gone, things I’ve seen. I stumbled on a pattern that, perhaps, is what I need to work on over the next decade, insh’Allah.

Most of the things of which I am proud are really silly – they are not lasting things but rather only things that made me look important in the eyes of other people. Most of the things of which I’m ashamed are things that really only damaged my standing in the eyes of other people: even the things that now make my stomach churn and my heart drop into my feet are only things that any socially inept person would do. They too are of no lasting value – outside my own ego. The things, however, that I did but would no longer do – the debauchery, the libertinism – of those the only sentiment (for that is all it is) that comes to mind is “they made me what I am today…”


For all that I’m sure that I do not want to “go back there”, I can’t seem bring myself to honestly admit (in my heart of hearts) that it was wrong to have been there in the first place. My pride steps in and demands to know “who would we be without our past?” I suddenly know the meaning of the Prophet’s words, “I acknowledge my sin and my sin is ever before me.” Yes, I can admit I was wrong… but I can’t go on as if it never happened.

Who would our fallen first father have been without the fall? Well, we can imagine, we can theorize, but really all we can say is “he’d have been who God created him to be.” We can’t know what that was to have been like for it never happened until Christ.

Who would I have been – who would I be – if I hadn’t been the me I became? Well, as much as I’d like to be that me, I won’t know. The best I can hope for is for that me to finally grow up in God’s time from the grace given in Baptism and the holy Mysteries.

Ten years ago this Autumn I and five friends moved into a house on Ditmars Blvd in Astoria, NY: we called the house Castle Ebola. In organizing that community, I set in motion events that would carry me through that decade: one of the persons I met there was to become my boss in San Francisco, which position would eventually lead me to finishing my BA, going into my vocational discernment process, and in ways that are very difficult to explain, eventually my conversion to Orthodoxy. Yet it was not my *doing* of that all that brought me here, but rather, as Vladyka SERAPHIM noted to me once, “there is grace before and behind”. God’s grace tracked me down; the hound of heaven would not let me go.

We were discussing, yesterday at work, the process by which one moves through the various Twelve Steps to recovery. The more I learn about the Twelve Steps, the more I realize how well they fit with the Orthodox Christian understanding of sin: sin is not a legalistic mumbo jumbo of lawbreaking. It is a sickness we all have. We need to work, to struggle, to pray, to daily strike out against the sickness. But the victory doesn’t come all at once, indeed, it never comes in this life, at least in the sense of getting Olympic Gold. No one will stand me up and raise a flag high while the world looks on. Rather the victory is in the daily on-going struggle to “run the race set before me” as St Paul saith.

When a person enters a Twelve Step meeting and announces that he is an addict and desires to live life clean and sober, he gets what is called a White Chip. He may get different chips of different colours for a week of sobriety, a month, a year. But if he falls, and gets back up again, it all starts over with the White Chip.

When you stretch a look back over decades of addiction, when you stretch a look forward over hypothetic days as yet unnumbered, it can all be very overwhelming. Sobriety stretching into a mythical eternity seems silly and impossible compared to a literal, physical past of addiction and a present of craving. As I said to the community at work today – paraphrasing a sermon Fr J gave a few months ago – Every day, in some way, you pick up a white chip.

Perhaps therein lies the best grace of all, the most joyful birthday gift: I can never know what life would have been like without the last ten – without the last forty – years. I can not know the me that could have been without the sin, without the ego, without the pride, without the mess I made of my life. I can not and I bless God for that grace: without knowing how truly far I have fallen I can not see how far I have yet to climb. I only know I’m not where I should be. I can only see the next step in the race.

I’ve lost my dwarves and my wizard, but I’ve found the Way. On my fortieth birthday, again, I’m given only the grace to pick up my white chip.

Po-Mo Exegesis


This post is from 17 Sep 2002. Still relevant, it seems. I’d been Orthodox for maybe 4 months by that time – and still struggle with some of the things referenced here.

THERE’S A SONG BY THE EAGLES that I heard on the radio today that put a lot in perspective for me. The thing is, I’ve heard Desperado so very many times and never noted the Orthodoxy in it.

Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone

We all seem to get hung up on “Freedom”. And we define that in our cultures by various means. We decide that Christians in Arab Countries and in Israel are not as “Free” as Christians in the US. But look at what that “freedom” gets us here: a confusion of our faith with mass-market paperbacks – the Left Behind series – and televangelism and “Contemporary worship” that deals in a McCrist. If such market-based terrorism is freedom, give me open persecution any day.

These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow

The freedom to be exactly what I want when I want if I can afford it isn’t really freedom: it’s concession. Indeed, the desire to “be my own man” to “be me” to do things “my way” is the truth in the statement Your prison is walking through this world all alone. But that’s what we define as freedom here, in this culture. It’s a willingness to suddenly want and then need the next greatest thing – which last week didn’t even exist – and to have the freedom to buy that thing that I’ve suddenly decided I suddenly need. And it’s the freedom to throw it out next week. It’s the freedom to be defined by commercials and marketing. I’m free to shop where ever I wish: but I’m still going to buy mostly what’s on sale, because that’s what I can afford.

Our ideas of free speech or even free religion are just as market based as our ideas of shopping and need. what we define as “Freedom of speech” today wouldn’t even have been thought of as acceptable public discourse 50 years ago. Our Freedom of Speech is defined as “saying what I want” when in fact, I didn’t even know I might want to say it last week. Our forms of “spirituality” are driven by the coolest, latest book from Harper-Collins or Llewellyn, and our Civic “Religion” is just exactly what the government needs just now, no more nor any less. TV will show exactly what the market will carry in Televangelism – anything else is resigned to a non-TV Land dominated in American Sports by soccer. No one even dreamed of saying the F word in public until we let the other six on to TV as well. Now it is freedom of speech to say it. Marketers tell us to let pop music into religion because otherwise we won’t be able to sell it – that’s freedom of religion. Anything esle is unimportant “ancient trivia.”

We like to think of all of this as “Advancement” and therefore as “improvement”. But it’s just a changed focus – neither up nor down. The fifties came back (and then the 60s and the 70s and the 80s all over again) because they were market-driven to do so. Anyone who lives in a “niche market” can be driven out and plunged into mainstream. (Have you not seen a Lord of the Rings movie/commercial/product tie-in yet?) To consider this as advancement is really only Chronological Arrogance: this is newer, it must therefore be better than what is older; modern ideas are better than older ones.

Our pain and our hunger are real – they are not market-inspired. The needs we feel, the pain we have are real, and we only take them to the market place because we don’t know what else to do with ’em. There we imagine they get converted to something more manageable. “Retail Therapy”, “Shopychology” “Purchiatry”. We all know why we do this – we’re all aware that we do this. I’ve had a bad day, but I bought a new CD or a new book or a new dress or a prostitute. The market only attempts to feed me – it fails. But I decide it wasn’t the market that failed, just my purchases. I need to go back. I need just a little bit more money, just enough to buy just one more thing… Target is just another word for a sanitarium.

Don’ you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
She’ll beat you if she’s able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get

We know that it is love we want, but diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late

I’ve always heard that as a plea from the singer of the song to his or her intended. Indeed, I’ve sung this song that way at the Duplex in NYC and on my guitar, sitting around a campfire with the Episcopal Youth Conference. That’s what it is, isn’t it?

You know… until I heard the Church Fathers talk about Hell, that’s what I thought this was about – but then I saw a different point.

The Church offer us a picture of Hell that isn’t that “Lake of Fire” that our Fundamentalist friends want us to think about. The Church says God is love… and no one can escape from that God. Hell, however….

The Church says that when confronted with this God of love… some of us will want to run screaming in the other direction: to suddenly stand before Someone who knows everything and still loves you. Who sees the dark places I hide, who knows the number of times I did that – yes, that – and fantasized about doing that too – yes, that – who knows that I lied, cheated, stole, hated, oppressed, abused, gossiped, gluttoned, slutted, apostatized, heresied, bamboozled, flimflammed and whored my way through most of my life – Someone who even cares that I did all that, wishes that I wouldn’t, asks that I don’t, is offended that I did – and still, loves me. That terrifying vision is hell for someone who doesn’t want to be there. And scripture says God is a Consuming Fire – and to someone who doesn’t want to be there, those flames will burn.

But those flames are rather the fires of Love, burning eternally, and we can join with those flames… I can become them, lighting the lives of those around me, being one with the eternal fire, a “servant of the secret flame” as Gandalf says… Or I can try to light my own little flame in the corner, and burn out.

“Let Somebody love you…”

Who already does, Who always has, and Who always will – want it or not. There is freedom there that can not be bought or sold. And it is a painful freedom – for it isn’t the freedom to be “what I want” but rather the freedom to be what I was created to be, what I was born to be, what I am when I am most myself – in full communion with the Creator.

The 2nd Chapter of Acts


THIS PRAYER IS NOT the most faithful of prayers, but for most of the last what? 20 years? This prayer has offered one prayer, over and over: send revival to San Francisco. Let there be revival from the ferry tower to the Sutro Tower to the Sutro Baths and the Zoo. Let your Spirit pour down and not just on any “us” here, but on everyone here. Let fire pour down from the heavens and light up the altars, burn up the hearts, flow from tongues, flood the streets, liquidate the fear, tear open the subways of sin and obsession, of darkness and death.

Let love light up the night of our lives. Not fake, nice, love-is-love love but real, threatening, painful, destroying-and-rebuilding love that makes us over into your image, that cannot be silenced, that will not turn back, that welcomes everyone and leaves no one untouched or unchanged. Let love revive us, turning and bowing to each other in the eternal kenosis of your divine superfluity. Let love be heard and seen, not felt, but touched. Let love be here now, because you are love, agape, eros, storge, philia, all of it more fire that we can handle. Revive us.

Let us find you in the places we never wanted to look: let us find you in the places we ignored, the people we turned away from, the folks we hate and love to hate. Let us find you in every “Them” there is. Let us find you so that you can revive us.

Let us serve you in our neighbors that reject us, in our foes that trample us, in our enemies that topple our statues and smear blood on our streets. Let us find serve you in unmitigated joy. Singing as we die, laughing as we are cut down for truth. For in the blood of martyrs you will revive us finally.

Heal us. Make us over into little yous of such piercing brightness that people will not be able to look at us without catching fire themselves. Heal our faults, our divisions, our divisiveness, our pride. Heal our tone-deaf singing that makes even our good times sound fake and strained, heal our passionless services that make even global warming cease. Heal our chilled love that cannot breathe. Revive us.

From Bay Stree to Bay Point. From the Marina to South City. From St Peter and St Paul’s, to St Paul of the Shipwreck, to St Thomas More, to St Gabriel’s. Pour your Spirit, send your fire, rush your wind, flow your living water. Change, make new, raise up, knock down, push us out to the margins, revive us!

Restore us. Revive us.
Move us to you. Revive us.

Look, if anything good can come from Nazareth, then you can do something here, too. If there are ten righteous people here, you can save this city with so much power that Satan minions will tremble all over the world. If we can but humble ourselves and call on your name.

Revive us.

And we shall dance.

Mediation… and you


At the end of Messiah Handel composed a four minute long Amen that fugues its way through some classic baroque forms and progression ending, finally, with five very firm Amens presented as 3 and 2, with a break of four beats in total silence between them. Listening to the entire piece, it seems that silence is exactly the purpose of the last two hours. There is a chill of eternity in the silence and the slide of angels’ wings. I see the Dore engraving which heads this post: a silent swirl around the Divine Majesty.

We stand in that silent swirl at Mass and we discover it’s not silent: for the entirety of it sings continually, Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth! The hymn continually unites us to the one place, the one time, the one moment: the eternal now of what Dante called the White Rose of Paradise. We might, these days with our eastern overlap, think of it more as a lotus and we would not be wrong. The ancient Hindu geometric figures convey the same thing imagery of many-petaled forms around an all-embracing center. Recently in a discussion of this flower formed around the All-Holy Trinity in Dante, it was asked why everyone wasn’t rushing to the center: let me get in there! But, of course, that’s thinking as humans do. In submission to the will of God and yielding place to the others in the dance, one arrives exactly at the place where one should be. No location further in is desired or needed and to move out of place in the dance would be a sin. What, though, is the purpose of the dance?

Think of a prism, how light pours in on one side and is refracted out from another side. While never denying that God cannot reach eternity and infinity, being everywhere present and filling all things, he gives us that omnipresence and filling to reach ever more hearts drawing them in. God is the ground of being so each individual that participates in the act of being mediates God’s presence. For man, made in the image and likeness of God, our being is rooted in God and our hearts can contemplate the logoi or “words” in present in all created beings because we, too, through Baptism and the Church, participate in the Logos as God the Son is incarnate in human nature, restoring us to our place in the dance. We become the prism(s) through which the light is refracted to others around us. We are the way grace is actualized in the hearts of those around us (that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven).

The Saints mediate this light to us, and the Church does so through the Sacraments: each one being a moment in time that is an actualization of the one eternity intersecting with us here. But that intersection pierces all of time: as the Incarnation is the presence of God in time, so now, the Son of God is the presence of humanity in Eternity. Each offering of the Mass is the one perpetual offering of the Son to the Father on the Cross by the Son. The Church is the Body of Christ offering himself to the Father though all of time.

This perpetual act of mediation frames literally everything the Christian does: God is in direct contact with everyone, but in his grace and in his humility, he is pleased to use everyone in mediation of this direct contact. It is no less direct here, for as the Consecrated Bread of the Eucharist is actually God so is his presence through mediation in your life and the life of those around you.

Let us close by returning to Handel and the silent, eternal song of Sanctus! Even music, well done, shares in this act of mediation: for we are creators like Our Heavenly Father, in whose likeness we share. Our creations, too, can serve as points of divine mediation. God can be present in the things we make, celebrating his glory even when not intended as such. This is why we can read the Gospel in E.T. as easily as in the Narnia stories. True acts of creation are, themselves, mediations of the one creator. Handel is reported to have composed the Messiah in 24 days and when he left his writing desk he is said to have exclaimed, “God has visited me.” Anyone who feels this in the music, or who sees it in the beauty of art or a building, or even in the beauty of another person, can confirm that God is present. For him who can read the signs, the same is true in mathematical code, or textual composition. As God is creator so are we and as we are ravished by beauty, so is he to give it to us by our own hands.

How to Love like God

The Propers for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project

Missa Deus in adjutorium meum intende


POPE BENEDICT XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (Vol 1) has an amazing commentary on today’s Gospel. I’m fully indebted to His Holiness for the roots of the ideas. If anything is amiss here, it is my fault, though.

Today’s Collect continues in a theme that has been repeatedly expressed in recent weeks. We can do nothing without God first giving us the gift to do it. Today the gift is worship itself. In the Novus Ordo Common Preface IV reminds us of this saying,

For, although you have no need of our praise,
yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift,
since our praises add nothing to your greatness
but profit us for salvation
through Christ our Lord.

God has no need of our worship. And he gives us this gift for our very salvation. And we asked him to increase in us this gift and give us the strength to get there quicker by his grace. The Introit Cries out to God in the same words that are used to open every Daily Office: Incline unto my aid, O God: O Lord, make haste to help me or in the older translation, O God make speed to save me: O Lord make haste to help me. Come quickly and help us to come to you ever faster! What are we running towards?

The Epistle for this Mass takes us on a little detour: how dare we run? For the ancients, God was terrifying. Remember that our forefathers standing, at Mount Sinai, begged Moses to let them go away because this God, rumbling on top of the mountain, scared them. They even begged not to hear God’s voice for that was scary enough. How do we run? And we do not run away will you run to. We run to the God whom the scriptures describe as a consuming fire. Are we not afraid? Again St. Paul reminds us: Such confidence we have through Christ towards God. Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God. This is not our gift, or our power, we are no braver than our ancestors. Are you not terrified of the Eucharist? But God would have it so. God, in his grace, glorified the face of Moses so much that it was necessary for him to wear a veil. The people were even terrified of the light shining from Moses eyes. Paul asks, If the law was so terrifying does it not make sense for us to even be more in awe and even more glorified?

Suddenly, there is what seems to be a bifurcation in the propers: from here the Gospel seems to go in one direction while the other, the minor propers point in a different direction. The minor propers are about praise for God and about his generosity to us, while the Gospel is the story of the Good Samaritan. However, please come in one Mass and so must tell us one story. I believe the fulcrum is in the Communion verse. So let us take a look at the Gospel first and then sweep back to all the minor propers together.

The text, taken from St Luke’s gospel, is the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. The Lectionary actually gives us a tiny bit more of the context by sharing what came before, Pope Benedict gives even more context four this story. Two points are important: first, in 6 AD the Samaritans invaded Jerusalem and strew bones in the temple. Then, secondly, in the chapter immediately before this in St Luke “the Evangelist has recounted that on the way to Jerusalem Jesus sent Messengers ahead of him and the day entered a Samaritan village in order to procure him lodging. ‘But the people would not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.'” Then two of the Apostles asked Jesus if they should call down “fire from heaven” on the Samaritans. It is in this twin context that the Evangelist places the story of the Good Samaritan.

His Holiness goes on to remind us that the church fathers have traditionally viewed this as a parable about Jesus. Jesus is the Good Samaritan who reaches out to mankind, now fallen among thieves who have beat us in stripped us of our wealth the robe of Glory that we had before the fall of Adam and Eve. However Pope Benedict also recognizes that this is a story that Jesus is telling to another, as it were to us, about how to inherit eternal life. Remember the context I shared above: neither the 12 apostles themselves nor any of the listeners would have had any reason to suppose the Samaritan would be the good guy in this story. Yet he was, exactly, that. Although some commentators stir up many anti-Semitic waves about the Priest and the Levite going on their way, the Pope Emeritus does not. In fact he is quite generous in his making excuses for them. You fix the point of the story is in the Samaritan himself. The point is made even stronger by highlighting that the Priest and the Levite knew they were on a dangerous stretch of road (as would any sensible traveler) but the Samaritan went in to help anyway. So while this is a story about how God leaves heaven and comes to us – while we were yet sinners – this also becomes a directive for us to act courageously, without care for our own danger.

In the end, says His Holiness, the question of who is my neighbor is turned on its head. Anyone is my neighbor if I act like their neighbor to them. This is the core of the twofold Commandment to love God and to love your neighbor: the lawyer, to test Jesus, wants to know who is his neighbor. Jesus’ answer is, “Who is not?”

The wine and the oil that the Good Samaritan poured on the wounds of the man in the ditch are greatly symbolic. In the medical understanding of the time the wine was cleansing and the oil was soothing and also a protection against disease: much like we might think of a salve today. So: splash some wine in to wash out anything dangerous, then pour on oil to put a sort of seal on top, then tie a bandage on the wound to hold everything together. But the wine and the oil or two of three parts that show us where we get this courage to act bravely and so forgivingly in the face of danger – or before the face of our neighbor?

The Communion verse answers with the bread and the wine and the oil which are the sacraments of the church: The earth shall be filled with the fruit of Thy works, O Lord, that Thou mayest bring bread out of the earth, and that wine may cheer the heart of man: that he may make the face cheerful with oil; and that bread may strengthen man’s heart. From these simple elements of nature, which require not only God’s giving but our interaction to prepare, the Church has fashioned her sacraments of quickening: anointing, or chrismation/confirmation – the seal of the Holy Spirit, followed by the Eucharist.

From these we receive the forgiveness of our sins as the Secret and the Postcommunion reminds us, but also God is glorified. How? We finally answer in the gospel of Saint Matthew, in The Sermon on the Mount: that men may see your good deeds and glorify your Father, which is in heaven. So the Holy Mysteries are the strengthening of our souls to do good deeds: the works of mercy, such as our Lord described in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are called to be neighbors, not to some, not to our own, not to those who are near or like us: we are called to be neighbors to everyone.

The Gradual and the Alleluia then become a sort of call-and-response between the needy and those who are praising God. The late Keith Green (1953-1982) sang a song about the church being “Asleep in the Light”:

Oh, can’t you see such sin?!
’cause he brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
“god bless you!
Be at peace!”
And all heaven just weep,
’cause Jesus came to your door,
You left him out on the streets

Later in the song he will ask, “How can you be so dead when you’ve been so well fed?” Indeed. We’re not at liberty to ignore either the spiritual needs or the physical needs of those around us. The Gospel requires not only that we bring the bread and wine of the Eucharist to the lost, but also the food and justice that they need.

The Offertory reminds us that not only was Moses a great teacher of the things of God to the people but he was also a great intercessor before God on behalf of the people. Like Moses Jesus stands before us teaching and interceding. So the Church, the body of Christ, must be before the world. We cannot only proclaim the things of God we must also do the works of God: Love. How are we supposed to love? “It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being nothing is lacking for everything is given.” (St Bernard) We cannot love as much as God for he is infinite and we are finite. Yet by his grace, given in his bread, his wine, and his oil, we can love as God: with our whole being. As God did, we change our relationship with the other not by changing them but by changing our self. We go out to them in love.

(If you get a chance be sure to read Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth volume 1. The story of the Good Samaritan is discussed at length on pages 194 through 201.)

We’re All Idiorrhythmic Now

St Anthony the Great, pray for us.


Monastics in the earliest Christian Tradition were all hermits. They lived alone or perhaps in groups of two or three, but each in their own cell. In the Egyptian desert, these cells were often not much more than lean-tos against rocks or a small tarp tied up with some woven branches. Although they lived alone, monastics in an area might gather for the celebration of the Eucharist or other events if there was a priest present, or if there was some other reason. In the early days, very few of the monastics were clergy.

This was known as idiorrhythmic monasticism, to distinguish it from the community-style that became common later. This latter form of monasticism was called coenobitic (or cenobitic). St Pachomius in the East and St Benedict in the West are the fathers of coenobitic monasticism. It is St Anthony the Great who is the father of idiorrhythmic monks everywhere. He has suddenly become our father as well.

Even by the 4th to 6th centuries when coenobitic monasticism had become common, idiorrhythmic practice was sometimes followed, especially in Lent. St Sophronius tells of his community (about 100 years before his time) all leaving the monastery at the beginning of Lent and spending the entire 40 days in the desert fasting, praying, and struggling with their sins. One of the greatest Saints of the Byzantine and Orthodox tradition, St Mary of Egypt, was herself in the desert for over 30 years. She received communion only twice in her recorded life.

In case you can’t tell we’ve all become idiorrhythmic now.

The message I want to convey. Many of our fathers and mothers have chosen to be here, in this very situation, and have worked out their salvation, becoming Saints.

The concept of frequent communion and easy access to the Holy Mass is a modern, Western problem. Most of our ancestors were not able to go daily. Most of our ancestors did not have clergy to go to for such. And most of our ancestors did not even conceive of it as a necessary thing. Yes, most of our ancestors did not live in cities, and by the 5th Century or so, frequent liturgy in the city was not unheard of. But it was not common. And frequent communion meant on Sundays. Daily mass was the privilege of monastics who lived in community and even they did not partake of communion itself on a daily basis.

So we have the blessing from God now to work out our Salvation in an ascetic field that was common to many – if not most – of the Saints of our earliest history. Our spiritual Fathers and Mothers have already given us the tools to do so. The daily office, Lectio Divina, prayers counted on ropes of knots or beads, silence, aloneness, and occasional social interaction.

So, I know this sucks. I don’t want to pretend that it does not suck. In fact, and 14 to 21 days I could be dead. You could be dead. Any of our friends, co-workers, family, clergy, fellow parishioners… we could all be dead. That’s the truth of the matter in which we live. I’m counting on several different timelines until I get to 14 days: since my last meeting with a person, since my entry into work-alone status, since the shelter-in-place status, and since the last time I might have been exposed. And when I get to 14 days that only means I haven’t been exposed yet. So what am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do?

I would suggest that we become Saints. I would suggest that we buckle down and become the idiorrhythmic monastics that our spiritual DNA has set us up to be. This is our genetics our gift from our parents. We can do this by God’s grace and we don’t need to worry about “public masses” – which unlike our ancestors – we can literally watch any time we wish now.

Let us all pray to come out of this alive or dead.