Newsletter #2

NB: the Text of my newsletter with pictures…

PAX!

With the help of your prayers, I’ve been trying to do this stuff for four weeks, now (if not the whole of my life, already) it seemed good to let let you know what “this stuff” all is. First, thank you for all the continued texts, tweets, email, and other forms of support. I killed my Facebook on 27 February, so keep those cards and letters coming, folks!

To get the most asked-for news out of the way: I would let you know that Lucia Kitteh is adjusting well to her new environment. She is greatly enjoying getting outside! We have learned that she doesn’t like wet feet, nor muddy feet. She is unimpressed with gravel and dogs, although the latter can be easily dealt with: she is currently enjoying her ability to scare Fr Prior’s dog, Sebastian, and keep him off the porch. She is the first cat he has met who has claws. Kitteh is not yet two years old, but slapping has a new, Jungle-Red sort of meaning when there are claws. I have also gotten her a bit of a “kitty palace” to occupy her brain since there are no birds here (yet).

I was officially received as a Postulant on before Vespers (evening prayers) on 20 Feb. This is an indefinite step. His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin, told me that finding the right monastery was a bit like getting married. So, as a Postulant, it’s a bit of “Going Steady”, if you will. It could last three to six months. The next stage is the Novitiate. In becoming a Novice one gets a new name. It’s more like “Getting Engaged” and is set to last three years. Just now I’m studying – both in books and in real life – learning the ropes and trying to avoid sabotaging myself.

As part of my studies, I’ve been reading “Benedictine Monachism: Studies in the Benedictine Life and Rule” by Cuthbert Butler, OSB. Published in London in 1919, it is no longer under copyright and you can grab it as a free ebook at the Archive. Butler was a noted scholar of his day, writing articles for the Encyclopedia Britannica and other publicans as well as many of his own books. In order to understand what is done here, at Tallahassee Creek, it’s helpful to understand what St Benedict was on about (together with generations of Benedictines after him). Quoth Butler: St Benedict’s idea was to form a community of monks bound to live together until death, under rule, in common life, in the monastery of their profession, as a religious family, leading a life not of marked austerity but devoted to the service of God—’the holy service they have professed,’ he calls it; the service consisting in the community act of the celebration of the divine office, and in the discipline of a life of ordered daily manual work and religious reading, according to the Rule and under obedience to the abbot.

The day here starts and ends with prayer and such is included in all parts of our common life. I get up at 3:45 and, after remembering all of you before God in my heart, I feed the cat. She calls me to my duties earlier, perhaps, but she has been good about not doing so more than ten minutes in advance of my alarm clock.

Matins is the first and longest service of the day. It consists of cycles of hymnody, Psalms, canticles, prayer and readings. The readings can be from the Bible or from the Saints. This last may surprise you: the Orthodox Church believes the Spirit of God inspires us continually through His Saints. This is a belief that we share with pious and faithful Roman Catholics as well. I have included below a reading from St Ceasarius of Arles (A.D. 468 – 542) which we recently had at Matins in preparation for Lent.(For the non-Orthodox reading this, our Easter is on 1 May this year. We are just getting Lent-ified: 20 March is the First Sunday of Lent.) 

The High Altar
The Lady Altar, with icon of Our Lady of Glastonbury,
Patroness of the Monastery
The Reliquary Altar in the “Statio”,
a small chapel off the main Oratory.
After Matins the community returns to our cells to do Lectio Divina. This is not the best place to give this practice the full treatment this Benedictine practice deserves (perhaps a later newsletter, after I’ve learned more!) but basically, it’s an active meditation on and with the scriptures or other sacred text for application in our daily life. Then we return to the church for the office of Lauds. This takes its name from Psalms 148 – 150, the Laudate Psalms, which are sung every day at sunrise in St Benedict’s teaching. In this (as in many other things) he follows Byzantine practice – where these same Psalms are included in Matins. Unlike most parishes, the Benedictine rite includes the recitation of the full text of the Psalms. Over the course of each week we recite the full 150 Psalms, rather than only some verses as is normal, modern parish practice. St Benedict wrote in the 5th century that of old (3rd century) the practice was to do the full 150 Psalms every day but he hopes weekly will do fine. (Byzantine Monasteries have also the tradition of saying all 150 Psalms in a week – twice during Lent.)

After Lauds, on most days, there is a chance for Coffee and maybe a light breakfast, unless we are fasting for communion, Lent, or another reason.

Then we go to the service or office of Prime a.k.a. the “First Hour” from which we adjourn to our daily community meeting where we discuss the business of the day, upcoming retreats, etc. We also read here a chapter of the Rule of St Benedict (a practice shared, year round, by all Benedictines, everywhere, reading on the same schedule). This is where the daily meeting gets its name: Chapter.
The daily work begins: during the work periods of the last two weeks, I’ve unpacked, moved furniture, cleaned the cat pan, done laundry – including hanging it out to dry! – had choir practice, gone to class, cooked lasagna for the community lunch, and many other such chores. Today I’m writing this letter. Indeed, it is an “ordered daily manual work and religious reading”. We are running a house here, both for ourselves, and for guests and the Benedictine Moto is “Ora et Labore”, Prayer and Work, for a reason.

Father Prior Theodore removing guck from under
the bridge over Tallahassee Creek.

At noon there is another short service during which we pray by name for everyone on our personal and community prayer lists, all the living and departed. Then Dinner! Our noonday meal is the main meal of the day and can be quite formal. I have had to learn the placement of salad forks and dessert spoons. Sometimes this is preceded by a reading or else there is a reading during the meal. We usually have these midday meals in silence.

A welcomed period of rest follows. By this point in the day I’ve been up for nine hours so a nap is nice, or else reading for pleasure (which often results in a nap, I admit). Then, in the early afternoon we have the Ninth Hour or Nones with more house work, etc, until Vespers (evening prayers), which comes about the time of Sunset.

A light, informal supper comes at the end of the day – leftovers, a salad, popcorn. Whatever one wants or not. There is conversation and recreation follows until Compline at 8PM with a long reading and the prayers at bedtime. Then begins the Great Silence, there is no talking outside of prayers until the Chapter Meeting the next day. 
This is day-in and day-out on Cabin Creek Road. Once a week we go to town for shopping and errands. Of a Sunday we may drive to one of several local Orthodox parishes for Liturgy (either Western or Byzantine Rite), or if Father Prior is scheduled to serve or preach. Largely, however, this is our life: 
Deep breath. Pray. Repeat. 
“The monastic life is nothing more than the Christian life of the Gospel Counsels received in its fullest simplicity.” – Sketch of Monastic History, F. A. Gasquet, OSB.
Thanks for reading! As I said: keep those cards and letters coming! Facebook is gone and Twitter will go away soon. In other words: only normal human-sized communications!

St John of San Francisco,
The Patron of the Western Rite.
A quote from St John that may explain…

Until next time! 

By your prayers, I remain,

Yours, faithfully…

Huw Raphael

Monastery of Our Lady and St Laurence
4076 Cabin Creek Road
Canon City, CO 81212

PS: The Promised Reading from St Ceasarius of Arles:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

‘Mercy’ is a beautiful word: more beautiful still is the thing itself. All men wish to receive it, but the worst thing is that not all of them behave in a way that deserves it. Although everyone wishes to be shown mercy only a few wish to show it.

O man, how can you have the effrontery to ask for what you refuse to give to others? You must show mercy in this world if you want to receive mercy in heaven. So, my dearest brethren, since we all desire mercy, let us make ourselves mercy’s slaves in this world so that she can give us our freedom in the world to come. For there is mercy in heaven and we come to it through earthly mercies. As Scripture says: Lord, your mercy is in heaven.

So there is earthly and heavenly mercy: that is, human and divine. What is human mercy? Exactly this: to have care for the sufferings of the poor. What is divine mercy? Without doubt, to grant forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy gives away on the journey, divine mercy pays back when we arrive at last in our native land. For it is God who feels cold and hunger, in the person of the poor. As he himself has said: “As much as you have done for the least of these, you have done it for me.” What God deigns to give on heaven, he yearns to receive on earth.

What sort of people are we if we want to receive, when God offers, but when God asks, we refuse to give? For when a poor man hungers, it is Christ who suffers want, as he himself has said: I was hungry and you gave me no food. Do not despise the misery of the poor if you want a sure hope of forgiveness for your sins. Christ is hungry now, brethren, in all the poor. He consents to suffer hunger and thirst – and whatever he receives on earth he will give back in heaven.

I ask you, brethren: when you come to church, what do you want? What are you looking for? Is it anything other than mercy? Then give earthly mercy and you will receive the heavenly kind. The poor man asks of you, and you ask of God: the poor man for food, you for eternal life. Give to the beggar what you want to deserve from Christ. Hear Christ saying “Give and it will be given to you.” I do not know how you can have the effrontery to want to receive what you do not want to give. And so, when you come to church, give, whatever you can afford as alms for the poor.

Wild West Hero

There are about 12 miles of dirt road between us and the highway.  I took a walk about three and half miles up Cabin Creek Road and came back. It was the longest walk I’ve yet taken since getting here: I’m still getting used to the elevation (7,500 ft) and exercise is a bit of a strain.  I hope the pictures make it clear why I picked the music above. Click on them to embiggen.

Not all barns are red.
A note left on the corral.

La bella luna & a line of cliffs along the ridge

This house sits next to an old corral.
That’s us.
I hope to limb up to that meadow one day.

Watercress.

A few photos

Greetings!  Matushka Robin at Holy Trinity Cathedral wanted photos of the mountains!

Pikes’ Peak from Pueblo
Monastery grounds under the full moon.

Snow at the Monastery

Snow at the Monastery

Snow at the Monastery

Snow at the Monastery

Snow at the Monastery

Along Colorado 50

Along Colorado 50

Along Colorado 50

Along I70 in Utah

Along I80 in California.

Faith: the Map is the Territory.

In social sciences, the words “Emic” and “Etic” have very specific meanings.  I’m not sure of them because I wasn’t introduced to these words in the context of social sciences and I certainly never heard them in school (we didn’t use them back in the Dark Ages of the Late 20th Century, although I would have loved to have known them in my class on Sex and Gender at NYU).  These words entered my world via a book by Robert Anton Wilson (RAW). These concepts are in several of his works and I’ve read most of his non-fiction and a lot of his fiction, so I’m not even sure where I first read them, although the internet points to Right Where You Are Sitting Now as the fullest exposition.  I have read it, that’s why the cover of same book is the header image for this post. In his usage (following the usages of neuro-linguistic scientists and philosophers) there is the Etic event and the Emic description of the event.  The words we use, the languages we speak, the cultural norms in which we live all filter our experience.  The event precedes our words, our lived experience of the event proceeds from them.  This is not the same as neo-gnostic claims that our reality is “made” by our thoughts and dreams, but rather that our cultural constructs limit how we experience and what we experience.  The “event” if you will, is certainly real.  It’s not an illusion or “created” by our brains or by a machine matrix.

The “experience” of same-sex sexual activity, to use an isolated and polarizing topic, will disgust some, will arouse others, is perfectly accepted in some cultures, and violently rejected by others.  Please note that “emic” and “etic” do not allow claims of “moral” and “immoral”.  Instead in this field those would be entirely “emic” issues.  The experience, itself, is outside those labels.  In RAW’s view, once words come into play, we are one step away from etic reality, already into emic reality.  We can begin to impose multiple emic layers, as the person who rejects something as immoral in one emic reality is called a “hater” by  person speaking from another emic reality and a third person waffles between the two claims, creating a third emic reality that angers both the other parties.All of these are removed at least by one layer from the person who engages in the experience and calls it “good” or “fun” or “love” or “hot”, etc.

Clearly in a discussion with RAW (an imaginary one: he’s dead now) for him Christianity would be just one of many emic constructs imposed on the real or etic reality.  In fact, we as Christians would have to agree because we can see other emic constructs around us.  We may agree or disagree to one degree or another with any one of them, but they are there.  To be sure, we are not alone in this: what passes for modern science is only an emic construct using “science words”.  The awesome value of “9 light years” is only imposed by our culture: it’s equal to 9 micometers in universal scale.  6 days is no less or more mythological than 93 Billion years.  Pointing out to some of our modern Prophets of Scientism how they use language in the same way as any other religion really annoys them.

CS Lewis offers us this in Perelandra:

There is no emic-free reality for humans.To say 6 days is mythological but 93 billion years is not is to impose an invisible bogey, just like God, through words, unless you have a being that has been alive for 93 Billion years and is telling you something without words…  The map is not the territory.

In the days of my former delusion, as they say, I attended a class about the misnamed “Progressive Christians”.  We were watching a video of some Bible-Debunkers’ stories about how they had come to debunk the Bible and how – after two thousand years of Christianity – these folks had finally understood what Jesus was on about.  Oddly enough, Jesus sounded like a cross between Oprah and a collection of Chinese fortune cookies written by fifth graders in lieu of letters to Santa: in the Kingdom of God you get a car. And you get a car.  And you get a car! And anyone who says you don’t get a car is a racist cis-gendered white, heterosexual male like St Paul.  We can ignore them.  Yet even a stopped clock is right twice a day, Unless it’s on military time, but that’s another issue.

In the middle of all the debunking, a late-middle aged woman cited her grandmother’s faith. I was certain from the way the poor woman was being discussed that she had long about gone to Glory, but I was happy for that, because I’m certain that in her ears her Granddaughter would have sounded a lot like a heathen, and the younger one, after a good “sharing of stories” would have thought Grandma sounded a lot like a racist, cis-gendered, white male.  Or maybe St Paul.  And then there would probably have been a whooping for telling lies about her Grandmother.  And then the stopped clock: Grandma’s faith wasn’t a list of doctrines, it was like walking across the universe one step at a time and at the moment you put you foot down there was something invisible holding you up.
At the time in my former delusion I had been on for  5 or so years about how the Biblical word for “Faith” (“pistis”) has nothing to do with a list of doctrines. I confess my point had been doctrines don’t matter.  Instead it’s almost a legal term that has to do with credit (as in good Credit), or assurance that a business partner will do something.  It is the first word of the original language in the the Church’s creed.  Essentially, “I put full faith and credit in..”  I think it’s interesting, for all that we Orthodox go on about how “legalistic” the west is, it is the Greeks that put business contract language in the statement of the Church’s faith.  The Latin parallel is “Fides” as in “Bona Fides” but in the Creed the Latins put “Credo”.  This last does in fact mean the same thing as “I believe in Santa Claus” without having any of the contractual content of “pistis”.  Like Greek words for love, Latin has several words to use where we only have one word, faith.

In the New Testament, the Greek says it is “pistis” that saves us and the Latin says “fides”.  Not “I hold in my thoughts/my heart the idea that Jesus is the Son of God and that he will come again” but rather, “This is how things are, I am 100% certain.”  Your pistis, says Jesus, has saved you.  Contrary to my earlier feelings, doctrines do matter: you can’t put your full faith and credit in something without knowing what it is.

This is where the stopped clock comes back in: walking across the universe one step at a time and at the moment you put you foot down there was something invisible holding you up.  Faith, the pleroma of pistis, the fullness of fides, is acting as if your personal emic construct is the same as the etic reality.  In Byzantine Rite Matins we discuss this.  The Orthodox faith asserts that God is unknowable in his essence and that “God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us”. We insist that the Eternal and Unknowable One who is beyond all our categories (the Perfectly Etic One, if you will) has  made known to us himself.  We insist that our theology is not a word painting about God, but a direct revelation from God – he says he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The one Etic Reality has manifested to us the true Emic reality.  Far from being beyond words, God has spoken his living Word directly into our world in the Incarnation – and continues to speak that Word into our lives today in the Eucharist.

Faith is not a list of doctrines, but rather taking the next step in your life as if the doctrines, the reality you’ve been show in in the doctrines of the Church is reality, itself: not merely one interpretation of reality, or “my understanding” of it, but reality itself. Fides, pistis without works is dead: in fact, it is the same thing.  Sitting in the corner reciting doctrines (even the true ones) makes you an Armchair Christian.  If you’re not running the course set before us, you are not living the faith.

You’re dead.

By way of a postscript: I know that some of my friends, Christian or not, will be surprised or perhaps even annoyed that I use the works of Robert Anton Wilson in this manner.  Any Truth is Truth. The Early Christians take no offense at this: St Justin Martyr, in Chapter 46 of his 1st Apology, says:

We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others…

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 Emmanuel – 7th Advent Meditation

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

O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Emmanuel means “God with us.”

In the Eastern Rite, at Great Compline on 24 December (and again before Theophany) the clergy and choir sing “God is with us” over and over.  “God is with us! Understand this, O ye nations and submit yourselves for God is with us!”  At the same time a cantor is reading verses from the prophet Isaiah.

It can sound as if we’re singing “God’s on our side so here’s a finger for you heathen.”

But that’s not what’s being said here.

Emmanuel means “God is with us and not against us“.  Not “God’s with us and not you“.

St Paul reminds us, “Quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiae, in caelestibus.”   For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. – Ephesians 6:12.  We have no human enemies. Our mission, to humans, is to save them: we can count no one as outside of our evangelistic reach.  God’s with all humans in his image.  It is entirely impossible for God not to be with that human being over there: although it is possible for them to spend their entire life pushing God away and to pretend God’s not there with us all. In the end, God’s presence may be rejected forever, but he’s not going away.

Our enemies, though: the ones God’s not with, are the demons: the ones who don’t want us to be with God who cry out always, “careful, don’t get sucked in there, you have to be yourself! Stand up to him!  Tell him to back off, this is your space: you need your space!”

Emmanuel.  God is with us!

The verse says God is the long-expected, but he comes in a way unexpected. Islam and Judaism both say that God has no body. Christianity, to the contrary, says God has both flesh and blood, has known death. God had diapers. God had the normal human functions of eating, drinking, of urination and defecation. God, being a male human, went through puberty and probably knows the heart-break of acne, a voice cracking at important moments during his bar mitzvah, and the teenage angst of involuntary erections. The scriptures say he who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps – but God is with us and he sleeps, dreams, tosses and turns, snores maybe, passing out on the ground from exhaustion, God wakes to find a stone has made a bruise on his back. These simple physical realities and embarrassments are part of being human and an absolute scandal to those who say God has no body.

God is with us!

My favorite image of the young Jesus is of a young toddler messing his clothes because he hasn’t figured out how to “go to the bathroom”.  Younger than that and Jesus was probably naked a lot because that’s what you do when you don’t want to worry about messing up clothes with “baby functions”.  Much easier just to bathe the baby…

God is with us!

As Fr Olivier Clement tells us, “True mysticism is to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary”: in  every human action, God is with us. God nursed at his mother’s breast, teethed on her fingers, woke her up for a 2am feeding.  Joseph, it’s your turn…   Yes, honeyzzzzz.

God is with us: in this life, in this world.  Everything is made a sacrament.

Recently in Spain a party stole over 200 consecrated hosts (the modern practice of “communion in the hand” comes into its own) and used them in an act of desecration called “art”.  It is possible to use any sacrament in the wrong way: it is not, as St Paul says, appropriate to discuss what they do. But any sacrament, from communion to marital love can be desecrated.  Any action of God in this world can be abused from birth to death. To be honest, I do sometimes get angry enough that I want to forget God has claimed the vengeance for himself, but he has and I cannot undo that. Desecration of the Holy Eucharist no less than desecration of marriage or human life is left for God to be the vengeful party.  But God is with us means God is with the humans doing the desecration no less than those of us who weep at the same actions.  It is a human doing the desecration, yes, but the actions are those of the demons.  They have no bodies and need us to do their deeds.

God is with us: we can do his deeds as well, in the body, as he was.  Our job is not to avenge God: but to be God’s actions of reconciliation and love even to those who are sinners.

God is with all of us sinners against the demons.

At Christmas, we celebrate wholeheartedly, the incarnation of God.  But we tend to sentimentalize it.  We make it about this tender moment “round yon virgin, Mother and Child.”  We get wrapped up in a swaddling cloth of childhood memories and songs about a ‘sleigh bells in the snow”.  But Christmas is about the most horrifying event in the world: the maker of all who is too large to be contained in the physical world, becomes a zygote, and then a baby in the womb of a human woman.

God is with us.

Understand this: and submit yourself.

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?

That Poor Holy Family

I’m tired of people (Christians and not) hijacking Christmas for their politcal ends. The “poverty” of the Holy Family was not a thing at all until Francis of Assisi got obsessed with proving Jesus owned nothing. This was a serious theological debate in the 12th and 13th centuries and it has come down to us in the Christmas Story: Francis was the first person, we think, to set up a “living manger scene” and that’s flavoured our western read of the Christmas Story ever since, especially among Protestants who divested themselves of Tradition and bought into as much sentimentality as possible.

In honour of the Protestant appeal to Sola Scriptura, let us look at the Gospel first: there is no way at all you can read the story of the Holy Family in Luke 1 and 2 and get the idea of poverty or indigency. Mary’s family is wealthy enough to send her – on her own – off to stay with her cousin for six months. In a culture where families depended on the labour of children to maintain the household, this is important. They were able to send her to her cousin’s house to work for that household instead.

When the holy family got to Bethleham, there is no evidence in the text of “evil landlords keeping a poor family out in the cold.” Rather the inns are full. There’s a difference of import there: at best there are too many Shriners in town for a convention. That happened a couple of years ago in San Francisco: the America’s Cup was here and there wasn’t a room to be had for love or money anywhere within 50 miles. My parents tried.

On this topic Church Tradition in Orthodoxy and in Roman Catholicism (although often ignored in both) teaches a very different story:

When the time came for Mary to be betrothed, all the traditions are in agreement: Joseph was chosen because he was old enough and wealthy enough to care for the girl. Some accounts have him as old as 80! An image search on “Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary” will reveal no shortage of images of Joseph with grey hair and beard – as heads up this post.  I’m nearly willing to bet that the less grey his hair is, the more modern the image is. For as many men as might want a younger wife, we’re very uncomfortable in our modern world with the idea of an arranged marriage to someone so old: but that is entierly in keeping with the Jewish Tradition.  Romance, however, and letting your daughter marry someone poor, is not, at all.

What we have – from Francis of Assisi to Francis of Rome today and every ECUSA sermon I’ve ever heard – is a reading into the text of modern political sensibilities. Many folks simply want Jesus to be poor and homeless for our own political ends.

One political thing I will take from the story of the Holy Familly: they followed without protest the orders of a foreign, colonizing power. Jesus and his parents never challenged the political authorities of his day – only the religious ones.
Try protesting in his name now.

I know, of course, that from the outside lookin in, both the traditional stories and the modern innovations are equally “reading in” to the text.  I’d rather side with Churh Tradition on this point, however.

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.